Sure the Air Guard is jets and radar equipment and lots of other "hi-tech" stuff. But if you're into something a little more "down in the weeds", here's what the Tactical Air Control Parties of our 116th Air Support Operations Squadron are up to. It all took place at the U.S. Army's Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, LA.
The Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, LA, is the U.S. Armys premier large-scale Infantry training center. Here's the way they describe their function:
"The JRTC tailors each exercise to accomplish the training goals established in the unit commander's METL (Mission Essential Tasks List). Each scenario is based on a U.S. task force being sent to a mythical small island nation to help them face an invading military force."
"In the opening days, a contingent of special operations forces is inserted into the battlefield. Their phase of the exercise begins about 3-5 days before the larger conventional force arrives, usually with supporting armored vehicles. This task force then conducts tough, demanding, realistic, real-time combat operations against the Opposing Force (OPFOR). The conventional phase of the exercise lasts about 10-12 days."
"The Air Force is an integral player throughout the battlefield, providing aerial resupply, evacuating casualties and providing close air support during combat operations. U.S. Marine Corps Air Naval Gun Liaison Company (ANGLICO) teams habitually accompany the task force to plan, call for and adjust U.S. Navy gun fires."
Units from all services and all locations participate in training at the JRTC. Last Summer Hawaii's Army National Guard sent their 29th Separate Infantry Brigade - the "Lava Brigade". Supporting the Hawaiian Army Guardsmen were eighteen Air Guardsmen from Washington's 116th Air Support Operations Squadron (ASOS).
The Washington Air Guardsmen were members of a Tactical Air Control Party (TACP). They assisted the Lava Brigade's Commander and his staff in the use of Air Force close air support, tactical airlift and reconnaissance aircraft. These unique Airmen must be thoroughly trained in ground combat techniques, rivaling those taught to U.S. Army Infantry forces. Our TACP teams train year-round to maintain their edge.
During this exercise American units deployed to the notional Caribbean island of "Aragon" made up of the neutral nation of "Victoria", the besieged nation of "Cortina" the and the aggressive nation of "Atlantica". The scenario called for the Lava Brigade to assist the Cortinian government against an Atlantican-sponsored insurgency.
The TACP airmen integrated quickly with the Hawaiian brigade staff at the initial staging base, a tent city located at the former England AFB, LA. There they began the integration of all available air power assets into the Lava Brigade's operational plans.
Once the planning was complete, the first elements of the 116th were airlifted by C-130 cargo planes into the training area along with the lead elements of the Lava Brigade, and the battle was joined.
As soon as the mission began members of the Cortinian insurgency - dubbed the "Cortinian Liberation Front" or CLF - began tracking and attacking U.S. forces by mortar and sniper attacks.
During this phase the TACP of the 116th covered the battlefield by coordinating strikes of A-10 Thunderbolt ground attack aircraft from the Air Force Reserve and the Louisiana Air National Guard. These distinctive aircraft are the 'Warthog' tank-busters made famous during the Gulf War.
The typical JRTC scenario follows a low-intensity conflict which escalates into a full-scale conventional attack by regular Atlantican forces as the exercise progresses. This iteration was no exception. After conducting operations against the CLF for three days, intelligence reported that a large-scale, conventional Atlantican attack was in the making. Now the light forces were in for a pounding by enemy armor and air power.
As the Lava Brigade dug in to defend, the 116th called in the F-16s of the Texas Air National Guard. When the attack came the TACP deftly guided the full fury of the 'Fighting Falcons' against the enemy formations, destroying five enemy armored vehicles and damaging another ten.
Without a doubt, the support provided by the116th ASOS and the Texan war birds was key in supporting the commanders mission to deny Atlantican forces access to the critical Cortinian port of Anacco-Leesville.
Overall, members of the 116th felt that the Summer exercise was a resounding success. According to Maj Dan DeCamp, Director of Operations for the 116th, "Nowhere in peacetime can a unit train in such a comprehensive, intense environment as they did at the JRTC".
Staff Sergeant Chris Gries, an Enlisted Terminal Attack Controller (ETAC), echoed the same sentiment. "It was the most realistic ground warfare training that one could experience". He added that the Close Air Support (CAS) integration was second to none. The 116th ASOS did this in a very realistic and hostile scenario, successfully carrying out its mission while at the same time protecting itself from an astute, determined, and ruthless aggressor force.