GRAFENWOEHR TRAINING AREA, Germany — All was quiet across the field save for the wind whirling among dried grass and rickety trees. A peaceful calm filled the air.
An explosion erupted, sending dirt and debris leaping to the heavens as a plumage of black smoke followed closely.
Four North Atlantic Treaty Organization tactical air controller party Airmen participated in the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Air-Ground Operations School’s Joint Terminal Attack Controller Qualification Course March 13 to 15.
“TACP is our career field, while JTAC is a higher qualification,” said Senior Airman Jacob Hughes, 146th Air Support Operations Squadron TACP and JATCQC student. “As a TACP we can talk the aircraft on, or tell them where targets are, and give them all the information, but we can’t clear them to drop ammunition. Being a JTAC gives us the responsibility of the drop.”
The JATCQC is a five-week introduction course that utilizes a “crawl, walk, run” dynamic.
“Since this is the first time they’re talking to live aircraft, having equipment on their bodies, and actually having to look for the aircraft, it’s a very different dynamic,” said Capt. Nicholas Brewer, USAFE AGOS Alpha Flight commander and JTACQC instructor. “We go back to the crawl phase and have a very basic scenario to start with, and increase that little by little in complexity in order to meet their graduation requirements.”
The sun glared down on the students as they began their first day of training. Despite its rays, a bitter chill hung in the air as a sharp wind cut across the trees and raced toward the horizon. Their eyes glued to their notes, the students radioed information to pilots soaring above them to describe the target area while instructors monitored closely.
All eyes were on the range as an F-16 Fighting Falcon tore across the sky in a mad race to the target. A giant smoke stack could be seen growing larger and larger when the blast of the impact finally reached the JTAC-in-training’s ears. The target was hit.
“This is where we start to prepare them for real-world situations,” Brewer said. “This is an initial qualification training course, and after they complete it they go back to their unit and go into mission qualification training. That’s when they’re going to get more advanced and complex training.”
Days two and three of the students’ time in Grafenwoehr provided more cloud coverage while they were on the range. The low-hanging clouds brought restrictions for the aircraft, as visually locating it before clearing a drop was a requirement for the students.
Over the three days, the four students rotated, taking multiple turns talking on an F-16 or A-4 Skyhawk aircraft to drop live ammunition or perform a dry run for a variety of target locations.
“I think the more you get out here and do it, the more prepared you are to do it again,” Hughes said. “The more repetitions you have it becomes muscle memory, and that’s the goal of doing this over and over again.”
The course offered a wide variety of nationalities, with American and Czech instructors and American, German, and Turkish students who interacted with Belgian pilots.
“I think working with these different nationalities is really beneficial,” Hughes said. “Just listening to people talk for one thing, it really helps you out. You never know who is going to be on the other side of that mic, and you’re going to have to understand them and get your point across when you’re trying to tell them where to go and what to do, and vice versa.”
Brewer enjoys having an environment where students are able to interact one-on-one with their NATO counterparts.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Brewer said. “Over here they are able to talk to other students and get a feel for how their programs work, and they do the job. It gives them a bigger, overall appreciation for being a part of the whole.”
A recently new JTAC instructor, Brewer first began teaching the course in August 2016.
“My favorite part about JTACQC is teaching the students,” he said. “Teaching in the classroom is interesting, but sometimes when you’re doing academics you can be teaching a dry course. But whenever you’re in the simulator or you’re out here and you get one-on-one interaction with the student, it’s the best part of being an instructor.”
Everything the instructors teach the students in the course is by doctrine and has a reference, Brewer said. They are graded on procedure and not technique.
“Guys will always look back on their IQT and remember what their training was like,” he continued. “Three to five years from now, they’re going to remember their time at JTACQC and the correct way (of doing things).”
With only one more week left in the USAFE AGOS JATCQC, the students are well on their way to joining the ranks of an Air Force JTAC.