Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Afghanistan: Oklahoma Army, Air National Guard units team up in air, on ground

By Army Spc. Leslie Goble
Combined Joint Task Force 1

LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan  – The Oklahoma Army and Air National Guards are not new to serving together, especially during training or state activations. However, this is the first time the state has deployed them together as one team, forming a mighty force here.

When the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team received notice they were going to Afghanistan, the 146th Air Support Operation Squadron of the 137th Air Refueling Wing, began their training to deploy with and directly support them throughout their tour here.

The 146th ASOS was established in October 2008, to support the 45th IBCT and the 79th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in California. Nearly 20 airmen deployed with the 45th IBCT earlier this year.

In the farewell ceremony, Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt, director of the Air National Guard and former adjutant general of Oklahoma, said the 20-person 146th ASOS team deploying may be a small number but they bring the full force and power of the United States Air Force with them.

“It’s been a great thing because of the closeness we’ve established,” said Army National Guard Col. Joel Ward, 45th IBCT commander. “We were able to train at home station with the Air Guard so when we came to combat it made us a more effective team.”

The majority of the Airmen deployed are joint terminal attack controllers, or JTACs, and radio operator maintainers and drivers, or ROMADs, belonging to a tactical air control party, or TACP. A ROMAD is basically a JTAC in training and the only difference is the JTAC is the one who gives authority for the aircraft to release ordinance. They are very skilled in communication and have knowledge of the different munitions each aircraft can fire on the enemy.

An air liaison officer also deployed alongside the 45th IBCT to bridge the gap between the Army and Air Force, advising commanders on how to incorporate close-air support into the ground scheme of maneuver.

Although the close-air support has the ability to drop multiple types of ordnance, they are typically used as a deterrent. Aircraft can be called in to fly close over the enemy during a fire fight, or to do reconnaissance on an area just out of sight.

“I’d say about 10 percent of our job is saying ‘cleared hot’,” said Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Robert Ellis, a 146th ASOS JTAC. “I’d rather not drop bombs if I don’t have to.”

A simple show of force by an aircraft called in by a TACP can be enough to break enemy contact. TACP’s are on ground just like Soldiers. They hike through mountains, across valleys, and walk many miles during operations.

“What the Army does I do, whether it is a nine-day mission or a two-day mission,” Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Raymond Viel, a 146th ASOS ROMAD. “I pack the same. I definitely carry my own load. I don’t get special privileges just because I’m Air Force ... if Soldiers are sleeping in the rain, I’m right there next to them.”

These specially trained Airmen call in and talk to the aircraft around the battlefield, enabling the aircraft to have eyes on the ground. This also enables Soldiers on the ground to have eyes in the sky with the ability to drop munitions on the enemy.

“When I was here before in RC-South, we only dropped about half of what we dropped already here, and I was there nine months,” Ellis said. “With that amount of ordnance, the amount of coordination has to be precise and many factors are taken into consideration.”

More than 53,000 pounds of ordnance has been dropped from more than 700 different close-air support missions supporting the 45th IBCT in either base defense or as the unit conducts operations. All of which is called in by a JTAC that was on the ground at the time or close by with a ROMAD or joint fires observer with positive identification on the enemy.

“I don’t think the Army Guard really realized what we bring to the battlefield,” said Air National Guard Lt. Col. Bruce Hamilton, a 45th IBCT Air liaison officer. “I think they really do now.”

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