Behind the Scenes: Tactics Cell preps pilots for OTF11

Story and photo by Staff Sgt. Travis Edwards
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

PLOVDIV, Bulgaria  — What we see is an aircraft flying, dropping cargo and personnel to a predetermined spot on the earth below. But, what is not seen are the multiple hours of planning and preparation that goes into hitting that mark.

This is where Capt. Gerad Gill and his crew come in. As chief of tactics for Operation Thracian Fall 2011, Gill and his team not only plan the mission, but they ensure any unforeseen problems are dealt with along the way.

“We have to make sure every variable is accounted for during the mission,” said Gill. “Planning the mission is crucial to success, there are so many moving parts and ‘what if’s’ that the pilots just don’t have time or crew rest to think about — that’s where we come in.”

Being pilots themselves, the tactics cell crew has first-hand knowledge on what can happen during flight and how long they have for training.

“We want to do a good job with planning and briefing these missions because we also fly these same missions we plan,” said Gill. “When the pilots get in in the morning, they are counting on all those details.”

The tactics cell sets up the missions to ensure requirements are met within the allotted training time. They arrive before the pilots to build the mission plan for the day based on the requirements of the crew coming in. Armed with only a Toughbook laptop and “Mother,” they put the mission together and brief the pilots when they come in.

“‘Mother’ is our system we use to plot our times and points on the map,” said 1st Lt. Brett Polage, tactics officer for OTF11. “It helps us be more efficient with our time by calculating the time and distance between strategic points along the route.”

As the crew continues to sharpen their skills through training, they also help strengthen an international bond.

“But it’s not all about prepping our pilots,” said 1st Lt. Kyle Gauthier, tactics officer for OTF11. “We are here to work with our comrades in Bulgaria, to share with them what we know; to always expect the unexpected when it comes to mission execution.”

Although the joint effort only helps accomplish the mission, some things will always be beyond their control.

“Weather will happen whether we like it or not,” said Gill. “We need to consider what the weather may or may not do and incorporate that into the mission. It’s not only about getting the mission done, it’s about being safe.”

With safety being paramount, they all have to work as a team to make the mission successful and secure.

“It’s like a football team,” said Polage. “You see the 11 players on the field, and those are the loaders and pilots getting it done — what you don’t see are the support elements like the trainers and the general manager. That’s us, working in the background to ensure our team is able to fly, fight and win.”

But when the end of the day is coming to a close, and the C-130Js are sitting cold on the ramp, the Tactics Cell sees a completed mission; something that not everyone is able to see, but something the U.S. and Bulgarian Airmen truly appreciate.