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Predators help TACP Airmen with mission

by Staff Sgt. Ryan Hansen
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

1/3/2005 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- If mentioned at all, tactical air control party Airmen are usually linked with a group of special forces on the front lines.

Normally these Airmen find themselves out in the field directing combat aircraft against insurgents or coordinating artillery fire with air strikes, but most certainly not hanging out with the RQ/MQ-1 Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.

However, as odd as it may sound, there actually is a small group of the Airmen working with the Predator here at Balad. It is a new mission for everyone involved, and it is changing daily, officials said.

"It is brand new; we didn't even know about it before we got here," said Master Sgt. Morrey Grymes, who is a joint terminal attack controller with the 116th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Squadron. "My predecessor . and his team 'wrote the book' when they were here; now we're editing and fine tuning it."

With help from the Predator, this small group of Airmen is providing intelligence, surveillance, armed reconnaissance and base defense for the Army's 1st Infantry Division here. Although it is not their usual job, they are still playing an important role for the troops on the ground.

"This job is a lot different than what we're used to," said Tech. Sgt. Mark Black, who is a 13-year TACP veteran. "Normally we're out there (in the field) helping to save our Army brothers' lives. We're still doing that now, but we're just going about it in a different way."

As Predators gather information and intelligence, often they come upon insurgent activity that may need to be dealt with immediately. As the liaison here between the Predators and the Soldiers on the ground, these Airmen have the final release authority before a UAV can fire its ordnance.

"We're still doing the same thing we've always done," said Tech. Sgt. Robert Grutko, who is a 14-year TACP veteran. "Except we're looking at it from 10,000 feet in the air."

TACP Airmen are also advisers. They help ground component commanders plan and use their assets. Working with the Predators helps them in this task.

"The capabilities of the Predator are incredible," Sergeant Grutko said. "The intel we can gather is one reason why the Army loves it. We can do a lot without putting people in harm's way. We get a real good picture of what's going on."

"The Predators capabilities, especially when combined with (joint terminal attack controllers), are phenomenal," Sergeant Grymes said.

While their main mission here remains with the Predators, the TACP Airmen do get the opportunity to go back to their roots. Roughly once a week, the team goes out on combat patrols with Soldiers.

"The original mission . is why we all joined and trained," Sergeant Grymes said. "It is still good to go out and do our original mission, and a necessity to keep our skills, senses and situational awareness sharp."

So while they stay combat ready, these Airmen are also blazing a trail for future TACPs who get to work with the Predator.

"This is new to all of us," said Senior Airman Jeff Varnum, who is on his first deployment on a TACP. "It's a lot different than what we learned at school and in training, but a lot of the basics still apply. We're putting it all together as we go."

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