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Battlefield Airmen considered a weapon system

by Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
National Guard Bureau

10/23/2009 - TUCSON, Ariz. (AFNS) -- The capabilities of battlefield Airmen are considered just as lethal as any advanced weapons system. For that reason, tactical air control party personnel, pararescuemen, security forces personnel and special operations weathermen have been included in the annual Weapons and Tactics Conference (WEPTAC) here this week.

Nearly 1,200 Air Force warfighters met in 30 working groups on Air Force weapons systems to decide on what's needed to succeed in future battles and missions. WEPTAC took place at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the Air Guard and Air Force Reserve Command Test Center here Oct. 19 to 23.

In the working groups that involved battlefield Airmen, there were two common questions: how to apply their combat experience to best recruit, train and equip themselves for the next battle, and how to present that to the leadership to get what they need.

"We provide the same deliverables that the other working groups provide and give the same briefings to the generals," said Capt. Jim Robinson, chairman for WEPTAC's security forces working group and commander of the 183rd Security Forces Squadron in Springfield, Ill.

Captain Robinson said that several years ago, the director of security forces advocated for security forces representation at WEPTAC. He said that inclusion has filled a need for equipment and funding, and a representative is now on the Air Guard's staff to represent them with decision-makers.

"He tries to get funding for us, the TACPs, PJs and others ... he goes behind closed doors with other weapon system reps to come to an agreement on who's going to get what, if anything."

But understanding how battlefield Airmen use their equipment, traditionally, different then how pilots use aircraft, is a challenge, said Senior Master Sgt. Nick Lowe, an Air Guard combat controller who manages joint tactical air control tests at the AATC.

"Sometimes it can be challenging to figure out how we fit in," he said.

Sergeant Lowe should know. He develops new technology for battlefield-Airmen the same way a test pilot develops new aircraft systems and tactics.

He said the field is acknowledging that more, along with how to go about leveraging a battlefield-Airman's capability with technology.

"WEPTAC for them (battlefield Airmen) is really useful, because they get visibility as a weapon system with the upper-tier leadership," Sergeant Lowe said. "This is the forum they use to air those problems and identify what they need to accomplish their combat missions."

Senior Master Sgt. John Babcock, chairman for WEPTAC's TACP and air special operations center working group, said the rapid growth of his Air Guard career field has brought recognition as well as challenges in recruiting, training and equipping. He said recruiters are concentrating on TACPs this year and bottlenecks at the schoolhouse are being addressed at WEPTAC.

Sergeant Babcock said being recognized as a weapon system at WEPTAC and by leadership helps, and it's a title held highly among the TACPs.

"We believe it gets us better visibility," he said. "A lot of problems will not necessarily be rectified, but gets better advocacy because we are recognized as a weapon system."

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