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First Air Force Stryker unit deploys to Iraq

by 1st Lt. Teresa Sullivan
354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

8/16/2005 - EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (AFPN) -- The first Air Force Stryker unit marked its first deployment with the high-tech Army vehicle when it departed here Aug. 14 for Iraq.

About 20 Airmen from the 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron deployed with the Army’s 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, both stationed at nearby Fort Wainwright.

“Our guys are ready and they’re focused,” said Lt. Col. Russell Smith, 3rd ASOS commander. “We’re deploying with the Stryker brigade and I’d say this is a great partnership. We’re truly a part of one team.”

The 3rd ASOS serves as the primary air liaison between the Army and Air Force during ground operations. The squadron became the first Air Force unit to receive the Stryker in May at the Army’s Joint Training Center at Fort Polk, La., where training continued in preparation for the Iraq deployment.

“Having the Strykers will help us by improving our capability and survivability during fast-paced ground operations,” Colonel Smith said of the 3rd ASOS transition from Humvees to the same Stryker vehicle used by its Army partners.

Not only will the 3rd ASOS be able to complete the mission more effectively, Colonel Smith said, but they will benchmark techniques and procedures for future operations.

“They are setting the standard on how to do business for years to come,” said Col. Paul Johnson, commander of the 354th Operations Group here to which the 3rd ASOS is assigned. “Stryker vehicles have proven themselves throughout Iraq, and our joint terminal attack controllers will benefit from the same level of protection and firepower as their brethren Soldiers.

“Special communications and sensor equipment, essential to their unit, have been installed on their vehicles,” Colonel Johnson said. “With these new state-of-the-art vehicles, our 3rd ASOS personnel will not only fight today's fight, they will develop the tactics, techniques and procedures our Stryker-equipped Airmen will be using in the future.

“We’re the first Air Force unit to have Strykers and we’re excited to use them in combat,” Colonel Johnson said of the five customized tactical air control party Strykers 3rd ASOS Airmen will use to perform their mission.

The squadron provides a bird’s-eye view of the battle for the battle commander by serving as the liaison between air and ground forces. They play a critical role in the 172nd SBCT mission, Colonel Smith said. Having specially modified TACP armored Stryker vehicles offers more top cover for Army ground troops.

“We are the Air Force experts at the ground commander’s right hand,” Colonel Smith said. “Without airpower expertise on the battlefield, we leave the great American Soldier on the ground exposed. The Army has transformed into an agile and light fighting force, but in doing so, it has become far more reliant upon air power.”

TACPs manage the air space above Army ground troops, guiding reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft and pointing out enemy targets for pilots performing close air support missions. They also coordinate with higher headquarters arranging theater airlift.

In addition, combat weather Airmen assigned to the 3rd ASOS provide weather forecasts to tell the ground commander how the weather will affect the ongoing battle plan. The current or anticipated weather may significantly affect what types of aerial support the Air Force can provide, and how effective the support will be.

TACPs consist of joint terminal attack controllers who are experienced Airmen specially trained to give weapons delivery clearance to close-air support aircraft.

The 3rd ASOS will deploy in two rotations of about six months each.

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