Allied Strike preps JTACs to put bombs on target

by Airman 1st Class Alexandria Mosness
Ramstein Public Affairs

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps and NATO joint terminal attack controllers and tactical air control party members joined together Aug. 2 to 7 in Grafenwöhr, Germany, to participate in an exercise known as Allied Strike IV.

Known as JTACs, their primary duty is to direct combat aircraft onto enemy targets. They are qualified and recognized to provide close air support to units in which they are attached.

Put on by the 4th Air Support Operations Group out of Heidelberg, Germany, the exercise was designed to prepare JTACs for upcoming deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The 4th ASOG’s battlefield Airmen recently became a part of one of the Air Force’s newest wings – the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing, headquartered at Ramstein.

To suitably prepare them for the AOR, teams of JTACs had to complete four different scenarios during the week.

“The first lane, or exercise, is a live lane where the members are dismounted and are on foot,” said Capt. Bryan Trinkle, 4th ASOG air liaison officer from Heidelberg. “Their goal is to give the aircraft coordinates so enemy targets can be taken out.”

Although this is not the first exercise of its kind, many JTAC members were still unsure of what to anticipate.

“It was a dynamic situation, and it was a surprise of what they threw at us,” said Staff Sgt. Weldon Leonard, 1st Air Support Operation Squadron JTAC from Wiesbaden, Germany, who had just completed the first lane scenario.

“This is a huge range, and it is a great training environment for what we will experience downrange.”

The second lane scenario put the JTACs in a convoy lane, where they were put to the test with improvised explosive device attacks. The third lane forced the JTACs to investigate patterns of life and suspicious activities in a village. The fourth scenario, about an hour away from Grafenwöhr in Hohenfels, tested their ability to clear buildings in heavily populated areas.

The teams must investigate suspicious behaviors, go from building to building while being fired at and give the aircraft the correct information on where to fire, Captain Trinkle said.

“The main thing the teams have to do is convey information accurately and as quickly as possible,” he said. “They have to make sure they get the correct spots or else innocent civilians could be harmed.”

Though there were only 26 servicemembers who were considered players in the exercise, more than 100 people were working hard behind the scenes to ensure the training environment was as realistic as possible and the exercise was a success. From medics and security forces, to aircrews flying aircraft from Mildenhall, Aviano and Spangdahlem, as well as Belgium, Czech and Danish fighters.

“Just like any other Air Force career field, JTACs could not do their job without support of others,” Captain Trinkle said. “Out here at the exercise the ratio is 3-to-1, and without the others out here supporting, this mission would not be possible.”

And just like downrange, the mission would also not be possible without the help of coalition partners. In addition to the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps teams, the exercise included German and Belgium teams.

In an Air Force career field of only about 1,200, JTACs are certainly in high demand. So the more that coalition JTACs can receive this training enables the other services and countries to help support the constant requirements.

Additionally, by training with other forces, it allows not only proficiency but also continuity throughout the career field, Captain Trinkle said.

“It is great working with the different coalition forces,” Sergeant Leonard said. “Being able to see their different point of views really helps us out.”

Like any military exercise, the true measure of success is in the confidence gained and lessons learned – much of which may not be realized until these Airmen are put in a deployment environment.

“Allied Strike trains us in as real-world situations as we can get,” said Senior Airman Christopher Beversdorf, 1st Air Support Operation Squadron Detachment 2 JTAC from Baumholder. “It is nice to know I can get these experiences before I have to go downrange. I would rather see them here then the first time in a real-life situation.”