JTACs
Senior Airman Andrew Andrews identified the target's location and range while Staff Sgt. Christopher Avalos communicated with the aircraft pilot.

While everyone is talking about "going green," Fort Knox is getting bluer.

Air Force blue, that is.

The most recent addition to Fort Knox's growing population of BRAC-driven units includes a new Air Support Operations Squadron, an Air Force detachment whose main mission is to support Army brigade combat teams.

Since the 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division combat team is moving to Knox from Fort Hood, it only made sense for the brigade's air support team to move with it.

Maj. Edward Burke, the commander of Detachment 1, 10th Air Support Operations Squadron, now "lives" in the new building at the corner of Knox and Eisenhower avenues, where the detachment is headquartered. When the unit reaches full strength, there will be approximately two dozen NCOs and one officer.

The enlisted men of the unit are known as JTACs -- which means Joint Terminal Air Controllers or TACCS -- Tactical Air Command and Control Specialists. The two titles refer to essentially the same job specialty, although the JTACs have been to JTAC-QC, which is Joint Tactical Air Controller Qualification Course, the training course at Nellis AFB in Nevada.

Because the mission of JTACs is to provide air support to Army units, the enlisted men work with the Army, train with the Army, live with Army, and even take the Army PT test.

"Most of these men have never lived on an Air Force base," Burke said.

Burke, on the other hand, is an ALO -- Air Liaison Officer -- with 10 years experience piloting A-10 jets, so Fort Knox is his first experience living and working with the Army.

"My enlisted guys are very motivated," Burke said.

Their mission on the battlefield is to call a pilot and give him the details of the air support being requested by an Army commander. Nine lines of information must be supplied to the pilot, including what the target is, where the target is, what type of ordnance is needed, and the time the strike is needed, he explained.

"Most of these guys know almost as much about my aircraft and its capabilities as I do," Burke said with a laugh.

In fact, if there are other aircraft in the area, the JTAC on the ground has to resolve any traffic issues for the pilot.

Because their communication with pilots is so critical, the JTAC's vehicle is pretty easy to spot. A pallet with five or six radios and antennae is mounted on the back of the Humvee.

"Unfortunately, that excessive antenna count on their (vehicle) presents a command and control target for the enemy," Burke said. "It's easy to identify."

Unlike prior days when assignment to a desk job meant a dead end for pilots, Burke said this is an emerging field and one in which he is considering spending more time.

"I love to work with these guys and I love it here," he said.

Due to the Air Force's investment in supporting Army units, Burke wants to be sure he and his JTACs are visible on the installation.

"I don't want them to think we're hiding," Burke said. "We are planning to fully integrate ourselves into Army planning, training, and operations to ensure our mission is accomplished, and to aid in any way possible the mission of the Army units we are supporting."

Page last updated Thu May 21st, 2009 at 16:14