by Dave Smith
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
12/9/2015 - FORT CARSON, Colo. -- The
staccato rhythm of automatic weapons fire punctuated by the deep bass
thumps and sharp explosions of artillery blasts fill the air. Sudden
whooshes signal the launch of shoulder fired surface-to-air missiles,
adding to the commotion. The bright ting of bullets ricocheting off
armor plating join the other sounds orchestrating a freakish battlefield
Through it all the Joint Terminal Attack Controller maintains focus. He
coordinates artillery to suppress the SAM fire long enough for a
circling A-10 Thunderbolt he is directing to strafe an enemy tank, all
without hitting any friendly elements. At the precise second the command
is given, SAMs are suppressed, enemy tank is neutralized and the A-10
flies off into the distance and a successful mission is completed under
the direction of the JTAC.
Even though the previous scenario was a simulation, it's all in a
typical days work for members of a 13th Air Support Operations Squadron
Tactical Air Control Party, whether training or deployed. The JTAC is
one of the positions within the TACP. The Air Force squadron provides
tactical command and control of close air support assets to U.S. Army
ground commanders of the 4th Infantry Division during combat operations.
The squads are normally located on Army posts working through a
memorandum of agreement.
"We accomplish the ground commander's intent and keep people safe," said
1st Lt. Marc Buker, 13th ASOS chief of training at Fort Carson,
The squadron's mission is straightforward; they are either in battle or
preparing for battle. Unlike other Air Force squads the ASOS's do not
supply ancillary services to the greater Air Force like security forces
does, so when members are not deployed they are training in preparation
"Our only mission is war," Buker said. Training for battle functions
includes flag exercises at places like the National Training Center,
Fort Irwin, Calif., where brigade on brigade - comparable to an Air
Force Wing - exercises take place. With no aircraft of its own, 13th
ASOS chases aircraft Buker said. What he means is that TACPs frequently
travel to where aircraft are participating in training to be able to
work on live scenarios with real assets.
The focus on training as frequently as possible includes sending people
to various Army schools such as the Ranger, Airborne, Air Assault and
Pathfinder schools. Earning badges from these schools helps JTACs
understand Army methods better. It also improves credibility with the
soldiers with whom they serve, Buker said.
TACP Airmen are both "green" and "blue," having an Air Force chain of
command but living and working with the Army for most of their careers.
While they dress in Air Force uniforms, their squadron headquarters is
more Army-like. Army combat vehicles and equipment are standard parts of
"This situation creates a unique, joint individual well postured to be a
force multiplier for both services. This is demanding on our airman, as
an (airman first class) might have dual responsibilities: briefing an
Army commander on how best to use (close air support) and then going
outside the wire that same day to control the CAS," he said.
Immersed in the Army, Buker admits 13th ASOS members lean a little to
the green, or Army, side. But since they come to Peterson AFB for things
like medical and financial services it helps keep them blue. The
biggest blue influence is working with and communicating with Air Force
"It keeps us a little blue," Buker said. "We get to be part of both
organizations. We get the best of both worlds. Most of us are glad we
are in the Air Force."
The 13th ASOS is somewhat spoiled being located so near to Peterson AFB.
Many other squadrons are located at Army bases distant from Air Force
bases where they go for services. Most of what the 13th ASOS needs is
readily available to them at Fort Carson or on Peterson AFB with only a
short trip to get what they need.
When the services work together there is a synergy that benefits both.
Buker said TACP can't do its job without the Army and the same goes the
other way. The mutual support brings together a level of expertise that
allows the roughly 140 members of 13th ASOS to coordinate support for a
25,000 person strong Army division.
And it takes more than JTACs to provide the needed level of support.
Many people usually associate the ASOS with JTACs because they are the
tip of the spear Buker said. For example, the 13 ASOS has the 4th
Infantry Division Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Officer,
who is the principal Air Force expert on intelligence to the whole
division. Expert radio maintainers are another integral position in the
"JTACs use portable communication radios to coordinate and control the
airpower we project and without them we are combat ineffective," Buker
said. "Here at the 13th ASOS it takes the whole team to accomplish the
Other members of the ASOS team include air liaison officers, radio
maintainers, vehicle maintainers, power production, and intelligence
"Without any member of that team, we falter. When we work together as a
resilient and lethal Gunslinger family, we thrive," he said.
The TACP career field is small, elite and in great demand. Because of
the value of the TACP, personnel are constantly deployed and not just
with 4th Infantry Division. TACP members deploy with Army units all over
the world as needed. They may even deploy with special operations
groups like Navy SEAL teams if the mission demands their expertise. The
high operations tempo means there are many personnel deployed across the
globe at any time.
The most important skills needed to be a TACP are intelligence,
communication, physical prowess and character. Coordinating multiple
fixed-wing and rotary aircraft as well as artillery all while moving,
targeting and returning enemy fire requires a high level of intellect.
Because the job relies almost entirely on communication the JTAC needs
to be able to communicate clearly in the languages of both the Air Force
and the Army keeping all involved on the same page. Physical ability is
critical because the Airmen of the TACP need to move with their
assigned Army units.
"A good measure of a physically fit TACP is the ability to ruck," Buker
said. "No TACP can graduate our schoolhouse until they can greatly
exceed all Army standards of rucking, running, and calisthenics. We
cannot afford to be mentally tired when doing our jobs, so we have to do
everything the Army is doing and still be fresher than they are in
order to provide terminal attack control and communicate with the
Because of the unique nature of the TACP career field, strong character
is a prerequisite. Unlike other Airmen, Buker said a TACP is an example
of character and professionalism not just to other Airmen, but to the
Army. With the great responsibility TACPs are given, much is expected
and character cannot be taken lightly.
Through performance in action the TACP has proven its worth time and
again. The need to expand the availability of TACPs and JTACs throughout
the globe is recognized. Buker said TACP was recently classified as a
major weapons system. The classification brings with it more funding
allowing for more, and more sophisticated, training.
"The last two conflicts shined the spotlight (on TACP) as a force multiplier," said Buker.
Increased training will only improve what the TACP is able to bring to
bear in combat. For example, with increased threat of space warfare and
the potential for satellite communications to be disabled, TACPs must be
ready to handle a variety of situations and methods of calling in
munitions to carry out the mission.
One thing is certain, when experts are needed to drop bombs close to
friendly forces, there are none better than U.S. Air Force TACPs to
accomplish it while keeping friendly forces in both the air and on the
ground safe, Buker said.