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Airmen help Soldiers rule air, ground in Afghanistan

October 20, 2011

By Sgt. Melissa Stewart

KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Soldiers with 3rd Brigade Combat Team (Combined Task Force Spartan) are winning areas of Zharay and Maiwand districts in Kandahar Province with the help of several attached battalions assisting them. A unique group helping in the fight is a small section of airmen who serve as joint terminal attack controllers.

A joint terminal attack controller is a U.S. Air Force airman qualified to control and direct close-air support aircraft, like the A-10 Warthog and F-16 Fighting Falcon, as well as targeting weapons systems on enemy targets, all while patrolling with infantrymen on the ground. The JTAC provides an important asset to the battlefield by fusing fixed-wing, close-air support assets with the ground scheme of maneuver.

Even though the JTAC may work from the tactical operations center on Forward Operating Base Pasab, they contribute greatly to combat missions. Their job is to ensure that the target is hit and there is minimal collateral damage.

"We essentially comprise what is known as the tactical air control party," said Air Force Capt. Thomas Sullivan, an air liaison officer with the 807th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Squadron, who is also JTAC-qualified and attached to TF Spartan.

"(The TACP) includes me, a joint terminal attack controller, and a tactical air command and control specialist (often called a ROMAD, who is essentially an apprentice JTAC)."

It is essential for Soldiers on the ground to have air support. While combat-arms Soldiers are well-trained and well-armed, having access to close-air support helps ensure mission success and the safety of Spartan Soldiers.

"Our main job is to ensure bombs are on target with mitigation to fratricide, collateral damage and (civilian casualties), which is critical to (counterinsurgency) operations," Sullivan said.

"To date, we've controlled over 150 airstrikes in the (area of operations)," he said. "We relay targeting information to close-air support aircraft and ensure that the ground commander's intent is met for close-air support, providing both liaison and terminal control to aircraft and AO Spartan."

JTACs do not just coordinate air strikes and close-air support from the TOC; they also maintain their own vehicles for ground operations and help to monitor the battlefield.

"We also have the ROVER system, which helps both us and the ground commander get real-time, full-motion video from close-air support aircraft," Sullivan said. "In addition, we have a variety of systems that help build targeting data."

Air Force personnel attached to Task Force Spartan provide vital assets to the battlefield by coordinating air support and monitoring activity on the ground.

Airmen contribute daily to mission success in Kandahar Province. Their assistance contributes to winning the fight against insurgency and bringing Soldiers home safely.

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