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Attack controllers call in air strikes at Kansas range

by Staff Sgt. Leigh Bellinger
Det. 4, Air Force News Agency

5/22/2007 - SMOKY HILL AIR NATIONAL GUARD RANGE, Kan. (AFPN) -- As F-16 Fighting Falcons circle overhead, joint terminal attack controllers from the 1st Air Support Operations Squadron keep an eye on a nearby village. Only this village isn't in Iraq or Afghanistan. It's Kansas and the Smoky Hill Air National Guard Range. 

The joint terminal attack controllers, called JTACs, are training in the Smoky Hill ANG Range training for future deployments in support of operations Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom. 

JTACs work alongside Soldiers and Marines providing air power to troops on the ground. The Airmen are stationed in Germany and traveled to Kansas for training on the range, which has the urban environment needed for realistic training and can call in air strikes on a target-rich environment..

"This is one of the few ranges in the states that is not pilot-centric. It's JTAC-centric," Master Sgt. Scott Loescher said. "So we're able to get some really good training. The guys really learn a lot while they're out here."

"Downrange this is what we're going to run into," said Tech. Sgt. John Strawn. "You're going to be in an urban environment. You're going to be working with several different agencies. You're going to have lots of things going on around you (like improvised explosive device) strikes and troops in contact."

The experience levels vary for the five JTACs at the Smoky Hill Range for training. Some are in upgrade training, while others are battle-tested veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But all of them use this training to perfect the things that can mean life or death downrange.

"Time to have the bad day is out here," Sergeant Strawn said. "You never want to have the bad day downrange. If you make the mistakes, you want to make them here."

That's why training at the Smoky Hill Range can be chaotic at times.

There are "things going on from the rear, from the front and sides," Sergeant Strawn said. "You have things going on all around you. You may have other teams out there. You may have friendly positions out there. And they have to identify all these things and keep track of everything going on around them."

Those are the challenges these JTACs face on the plains of Kansas, and the same challenges they'll face when it comes time to deploy to fight the war on terrorism.

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