Military News

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Thai combat controllers, U.S. air support operations make it rain

by Staff Sgt. Wes Wright
JBER Public Affairs

8/26/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Fliers and ground crews got used to a lot of foreign accents throughout Red Flag Alaska 15-3.

However, for U.S. and coalition C-130 Hercules pilots, one unique accent that routinely pierced the steady droning noise of their Pratt and Whitney motors came from Royal Thai Air Force combat controllers.

Going by their call signs, RTAF combat controllers "Nok" and "Piglet," Flight Sgt. 1st Class Saknarong Wongin and Flight Lieutenant Phongsakron Namjit, worked with side-by-side with a U.S. Air Force air mobility liaison officer, Capt. Michael Spanogle from the 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron to drop common delivery system bundles and paratroopers from the back of coalition aircraft in simulated combat situations.

"This was a very unique opportunity for both parties," Spanogle said. "Just to see how their special forces and combat controllers operate is helpful. There are a lot of parallels when it comes to passing nine-lines, radio operations and things of that nature."

While there are vast differences and scopes of responsibility between not only AMLOs and CCTs, one constant is the ability to be a one-man air traffic controller in an austere location.

"Whenever there is an air drop, my job is to go out and survey the area, make sure it's safe for operations, and coordinate with the users," Spanogle said. "My job is to go out as a single resource, which is what I normally do, or, in this case, working with the Royal Thai Air Force to help train them."

The U.S.-Thai ground team focused on improving radio platform integration and streamlining communication.

"It was good working with the Americans to learn new communication techniques and procedures," Wongin said. "It was fun. [Spanogle] taught us a lot. We will use the lessons we learned in the future for improved cooperation."

While the U.S. AMLO and Thai CCT personnel were working to improve their craft, 3rd ASOS technicians, took the opportunity to install radio equipment onboard a Humvee. They were then able to test and demonstrate the improved voice and digital radio capabilities to the Thais.

According to Tech. Sgt. Mike Whiteman, 3rd ASOS support superintendent, the capabilities, tactics, techniques and procedures demonstrated to the RTAF CCT members shows how an improved radio platform can increase communication with both ground and air resources.

The combined efforts are representative of the learning processes required from international forces during large operations and continue to prove how crucial these events are to conducting streamlined operations for future exercises and real world operations, Whitman said.

In addition to radio communication, Spanogle, Nok and Piglet worked together to set up point-of-impact markings and landing zone panels to guide aircraft. They also shared techniques on recording data and how to best pass that information to an inbound aircraft.

"It's absolutely critical," Spanogle said. "From a flying standpoint, when integrating with other nations, you see a lot of dynamics and aspects come together. From the ground sense, it's a very unique opportunity. Learning how they think and operate is awesome. It teaches us how to make things more streamlined and safe. That way, if we do go to combat, those lessons will make us more effective when we integrate."

While the Thai CCT personnel and U.S. AMLO had  operational duties to perform together, the same amount of effort was put into solidifying their personal relationships.

A common understanding among participants at Red Flag was if you went near the Thai aircrew area around lunch time, you'd be invited to stay for food, according to several aircrews.

"Personal relationships are huge," Spanogle said. "That first day you get to meet someone really sets the tone for how things are going to go. I have nothing but accolades to sing for them. They were very professional and kind. They were here for more than to just drop things out of the back of an airplane. They were here to build a relationship with our forces."

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