Exercise brings Army, AF together

Story and photo by Airman 1st Class Kenny Holston
435th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Air Force A-10s streaked overhead as Army Joint Fire Observers and Air Force Joint Terminal Air Controllers plotted coordinates of enemy targets, sending the information to the pilots to have each target demolished.

Air Force JTAC students worked hand-in-hand with Army JFO students
during an extreme training exercise in Southern France Jan. 29.
“An Army JFO is the extension of the Air Force JTAC on the battlefield,” said Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Ybarra, JFO Senior Army enlisted instructor.

Like most combat training missions, the atmosphere was rural and unfamiliar to JFO and JTAC students attending the course.

“We try to switch up training locations for the students benefit,” said Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Picoc, JTAC training instructor. “This terrain and location is completely unfamiliar for our JFO and JTAC students, giving them a chance to expand their knowledge and skills.”

As with any physically and mentally-demanding career field, it’s hard to make the cut to be an Air Force JTAC. This has challenged both the Air Force and Army to come up with a solution to help JTAC Airmen on the battlefield.

“With so few Air Force JTACs, the Army has devised a program so that they have the ability to cover more battle space and more battle area in a non-linear battlefield, which we are currently posed with in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Sergeant Ybarra said.

Both JFOs and JTACs must be accurate when plotting coordinates so as to not send pilots the wrong information resulting in a strike on the wrong target.
“We are here to help our troops on the ground,” Sergeant Picoc said. “We can’t make mistakes. When we mess up, it could result in a loss of lives.”

The JFOs compose timely and accurate targeting data. They then pass that information onto the JTACs giving them terminal control, leaving it to them to deem it safe for the aircraft to drop bombs on the target. Each step prior to the execution process is carefully thought out.

“Our skills are being put to the test more often than not,” Sergeant Ybarra said. “This is another reason we must always be precise and use safe and highly effective methods.”

While each unit is able to function individually, the JFOs and JTACs are usually a package deal. Each unit relies on one another during missions to work as a team for proper execution.

“We plan for everything,” said Senior Airman Ronald Calletti, JTAC student. “We train with the JFOs as often as possible because we work directly with them downrange. The more we train together and become a team, the better chance we have for mission success.”