By Capt. Robert Taylor, Idaho National GuardJune 11, 2019
FORT IRWIN, Calif. - During combat operations, there's no substitute for the ability to talk face-to-face with a supporting unit. For pilots from the 124th Fighter Wing's 190th Fighter Squadron, this means landing their A-10 Thunderbolt IIs in a dry lake bed to discuss current operations with the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team's air liaison officer while supporting the brigade's National Training Center rotation at Fort Irwin June 4 - 9.
"We can talk about the latest conditions on the battlefield," said 124th Air Support Operations Squadron Maj. Johnny Reyes, the brigade's air liaison officer. "They can get the latest update on the commander's intent for use of close air support."
The Idaho Air National Guard's 190th Fighter Squadron is supporting the 116th CBCT's month-long NTC rotation through its participation in Green Flag-West 19-8, a realistic air-land integration combat training exercise. Pilots launch out of Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas to provide close air support to the 116th CBCT in the brigade's fight against opposing forces provided by the U.S. Army's 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.
Pilots spent the week completing qualification landings on the NTC's Freedom Landing Strip to be prepared to land in austere environments in a combat environment.
"The training gives us the confidence we can do it in a combat situation if required," said Lt. Col. "Champ" Clark, 190th Fighter Squadron commander.
Landing in austere conditions is a task the A-10 Thunderbolt II is well designed for, Clark said. The aircraft's twin engines are placed high on the aircraft, minimizing the risk the engines could be damaged during landing. Its tires are wide and rugged. Its high ground clearance assists with landing on less-than-ideal surfaces.
"It's the same as landing on a paved runway, but different," Clark said. "You have to ensure you land soft and you can't really break as much as you'd like to. The runway is a little rougher. It's a little more challenging, so you have to be more careful."
Once pilots land, they have the ability to communicate directly with Soldiers and Airmen on the ground, including the unit's air liaison officer, the ground force commanders, and their staffs.
Reyes and the 190th ASOS is aligned with the 116th CBCT. Because the 124th Fighter Wing's and the 116th CBCT's headquarters are located less than a mile apart on Gowen Field in Boise, Reyes is able to fully integrate into the brigade's staff. Reyes and the unit's joint terminal attack controllers deploy anywhere the 116th CBCT does coordinate the use of close air support to support the brigade's deep fight. The 190th Fighter Squadron's participation in Green Flag-West happened to coincide with the brigade's NTC rotation.
"It's really cool to work with Idaho Army National Guard Soldiers," Clark said. "Those relationships we build at home, we continue out here and take back with us."
Rayes said it would tie up brigade communication channels for a significant period of time to communicate all of the latest updates to pilots in the sky. In addition, pilots are able to offer updates to the unit's maps based off what they saw on their way to the brigade's tactical operations center, which helps improves the brigade's common operating picture.
"Pilots serve as an extension of the tactical air control party and get a lot of work done in the deep fight," Reyes said.
The 116th CBCT's tactical air control party consists of Reyes, more than a dozen 190th ASOS JTACs, two Marine JTACs and five members of the Brazilian Special Operations Command.
The 116th CBCT is comprised of 3,000 Soldiers, including 1,800 from 137 Idaho communities and 1,200 Soldiers from the Montana, Nevada, and Oregon Army National Guards. The unit is completing a month-long rotation at the National Training Center to build combat readiness and improve Soldier proficiency in their wartime missions. More than an additional 1,000 Soldiers from units in nine Army National Guard states are supporting the 116th CBCT's rotation. The 116th CBCT is one of five National Guard armored brigade combat teams.