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22nd MEU refines Tactical Air Control Party procedures with a bang

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 2005318114227
Story by 22nd MEU Public Affairs

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (March 18, 2005) -- Forward air controllers and radio operators with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit recently braved the harsh North Carolina winter to perfect their skills guiding attack and strike aircraft onto target.

During the Tactical Air Control Party Exercise, the Marines directed AV-8B Harrier II attack jets and AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters through a series of close air strikes with practice bombs and rockets against targets aboard Camp Lejeune ranges. At least 51 'controls,' or close air strikes, were conducted during the three-day exercise.

While this type of training is crucial for pilots to refine their skills dropping ordnance in a timely and accurate matter, the main focus of this exercise were the Marines on the ground, which in this case was the TACP.

A TACP is a select group of forward air controllers (FACs) and radio operators whose primary mission is to deploy with combat maneuver elements to provide pilots overhead with a grounds-eye view of the battlefield so that the aircraft's weapons systems can be most efficiently employed. Normally FACs work alone, but coming together for training helps establish common guidelines and procedures.

"This was the first time we conducted this type of training in preparation for the next deployment," said Maj. Daniel Creighton, of Cambridge, Maryland, a CH-53E Super Stallion pilot serving as the 22nd MEU's Air Officer. "It gave us the opportunity to come together and the refine our control procedures."

According to Creighton, another key aspect of the exercise was familiarizing the TACP with the ranges they will be using during fire support exercises scheduled throughout the rest of the MEU's pre-deployment training. FACs are Marine aviators by trade, and their experience in the air gives them a unique perspective in talking to their airborne comrades.

"A pilot can talk to a pilot in 'pilotspeak,'" said Capt. Andrew Pushart, a Pennsylvania native and the 22nd MEU's Assistant Air Officer. "I can describe what I see on the ground in a way the [aircraft's pilot] can understand."

"If I'm on the ground, I have a better understanding of the ground commander's priority of fires," continued Pushart, who normally flies KC-130 Hercules transport aircraft. "It's as if you're right next to the guy telling him what you need."

During this particular TACP exercise, the FACs executed their missions under a variety of conditions, and according to Creighton, gained a great deal of proficiency in conducting this difficult mission using night vision devices and infrared pointers.

All the experience and knowledge retained by the FACs would be worthless if not for the radio operators who may one day find themselves ensuring lines of communication exist between the FACs and pilots overhead. For many of the radio operators, the TACP exercise was their first opportunity to see first hand the impacts of their work.

"This is the first time I've done this," said Sgt. Argelis Bonilla, a radio operator from Bridgeport, Conn. "I learned about calls-for-fire. They also explained safety and how to make sure nobody gets hurt."

During the 22nd MEU's 2004 deployment to Afghanistan, MEU FACs and their radio operators were a crucial component to the unit's success against Taliban forces. They guided not only Marine strike aircraft and attack helicopters onto target, but also directed Air Force bombers and attack aircraft as well as Army attack helicopters.

This TACP exercise was the first in a series of similar training evolutions the MEU will conduct in the coming months as the unit prepares to set sail.

For more information on the 22nd MEU, visit the unit's web site at http://www.22meu.usmc.mil.

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