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Airmen get Stryker vehicles, prep to deploy with Army

By Capt. Michael Blankartz and 2nd Lt. Kate McIsaac

FORT POLK, La. (Army News Service, May 12, 2005) – An Air Force squadron gained operational control of five Army Strykers May 6 in a ceremony at the Army’s Joint Readiness Training Center during an exercise to ready the crews for Iraq.

The 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron is the first Air Force element to receive the Stryker – an infantry combat vehicle known for its rapid adaptability and enhanced survivability features on the battlefield. The squadron is attached to the Army’s 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, stationed at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

The 3rd ASOS and 172nd Stryker Brigade are now at Fort Polk participating in a Mission Rehearsal Exercise to prepare them for deployment.

“This is the most rewarding day in my entire Air Force career,” said Lt. Col. Russell Smith, commander of the 3rd ASOS. “This integration provides options for commanders on the ground and further enhances the use of more responsive and lethal effects to the common operational picture,” Smith told an audience of inquisitive observers – most being Soldiers and Airmen from his own squadron.

After a relatively slow beginning, the idea of the integrated Tactical Air Control Party vehicles began to take form in early January of this year. In a short five months, the eight-wheeled armored Strykers now have some of the most advanced communications and tracking systems in the world.

Bringing the Army and Air Force together is no new concept. But putting Soldiers and Airmen together in one fighting machine with the ability to call for close air support in seconds rather than minutes is revolutionary, officials said. They said the re-engineered manning of the Stryker crew integrates TACP into the already modularly scaled Army units of the 172nd SBCT.

“In providing Strykers to the 3rd ASOS, we allow the TACP enhanced intelligence and surveillance capability and have created a lethal and survivable joint team,” said Col. Michael Shields, commander of the 172nd SBCT, just before the Stryker demonstration at the ceremony.

An A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft flew into the view of Soldiers at the ceremony, accompanied by howitzer fire piercing the skyline. The 4-11th Field Artillery Battalion was demonstrating its ability to suppress enemy air defense fires on call from the Stryker crews. The A-10 was demonstrating how the Stryker crews could call for close air support.

“Through this shared use, the Stryker will allow for enhanced survivability of not only the 172nd, but the ASOS crews as well,” Shields said. The combination of the Stryker’s speed and protection and firepower are a welcomed force protection measure to the TACP crews, he added.

The 172nd, known as the Arctic Wolf Brigade, embraces this shared concept, Shield said. He said the new hybrid Stryker is an evolutionary system enhancing the already-powerful Stryker Brigade Combat Team by providing a technically advanced communications and surveillance system with the protection of an armored fifth-speed vehicle.

The assimilation of Airmen into the Stryker enhances communication and application of joint fires, Shields said.

Beyond extraordinary combat maneuverability, the upgraded Strykers have the ability to reduce the chance of fratricide by the addition of the Tadpole Computer System, officials said. They said this system gives situational awareness of all fire support coordination measures and fire support assets, facilitating clearance and integration of joint fires.

The TACP Strykers are also equipped with Rover III, allowing tactical unmanned aerial vehicle downlink on the move.

Sharing information, and now sharing personal space, is critical to the joint environment, said the ASOS commander.

“The upgraded vehicles, unique to any other, allow the ground commander invaluable, life-saving, force-multiplying abilities to integrate both air and space,” Smith told the Soldiers in closing. “This event marks history—one step closer to fused battlespace connectivity – the relationship among components of a joint force is the key to a unit’s operational effectiveness and our joint lethality as a whole.”

(Editor’s note: Capt. Michael Blankartz serves with the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team public affairs section and 2nd Lt. Kate McIsaac serves with the 302nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, an Army Reserve unit from Bell, Calif.)

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