VICENZA, Italy — Air Force Capt. Brian Fagan, the air mobility liaison officer to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was awarded the Maj. Gen. James Baginski Air Mobility Liaison Officer Award for his performance in 2019. Simultaneously, Staff Sgt. Rocco Gatta, an airborne weather parachutist in the brigade, won the Army Weather Support Airman of the Year Award.
Both individuals are members of a small group of U.S. Air Force personnel who are assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade and support the U.S. Army in their respective professions.
“My supervisors really set me up for success here,” said Gatta. Surprised by the operations tempo of the brigade, Gatta believes that the busy schedule of the battalions within the brigade, as well as the ability of his supervisors to integrate him into the unit, greatly contributed to his being chosen as the Air Force’s best Army weatherman.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the U.S. Army's Contingency Response Force in Europe, providing rapidly deployable forces to the United States Europe, Africa and Central Command areas of responsibility. Forward deployed across Italy and Germany, the brigade routinely trains alongside NATO allies and partners to build partnerships and strengthen the alliance.
Gatta’s job in the brigade is to provide insight and information about the weather forecast and the possible impacts of the weather to upcoming missions and exercises. As the brigade is versatile in terms of capability, Gatta’s task can vary greatly depending on the mission. If embedded with an element in the field, Gatta keeps commanders abreast of weather developments and aware of windows of good weather within which air assets like unmanned air vehicles can be deployed, airborne operations can be safely executed, and ground maneuvers can be effectively carried out.
“If there’s bad weather going on, we really want to look for the good, even if it’s just for an hour or two hours,” said Gatta. “We really do try to get as close as possible for the Army so they can employ any of the assets or perform any of the jumps that they want to do.”
If the brigade wants to project forces into a region with few weather sensors, as an airborne qualified airmen, Gatta can serve as a forward observer, jumping into the area and reporting the weather conditions on the ground back to the rear. “With us being that forward observer, especially in a data sparse area, we’ll give them a more accurate forecast,” said Gatta.
“Even though it is time consuming and I feel like I’m overwhelmed at times, it is one of the best opportunities to be able to go and jump, get out in the field and integrate, and spend time with other nations’ forces,” said Gatta.
In addition to his duties as an airman, Gatta has a wife and two kids, even finding time last year to be the assistant coach for the Vicenza High School football team.
Gatta isn’t the only airman, however, whose responsibilities in the 173rd have highlighted him across the entire Air Force. Fagan, too, recognizes that the brigade’s busy schedule certainly contributed to his being chosen as the Air Force’s top AMLO.
“As busy and dynamic as the 173rd is, operating in Europe, the real world missions that are happening, and all of the exercises that we participate in throughout the year, all of those things helped to contribute to the competitive nature of my packet,” said Fagan.
The job of the AMLO is to be the intermediary between the Air Force and other branches of the military. “We’re here to help facilitate anything in relation to air mobility with the Army,” said Fagan. “Anything from ordering aircraft, to controlling drop zones, to running intermediate staging bases, or even receiving returning forces.”
AMLOs are stationed across three commands: Pacific Air Forces, Air Mobility Command, and U.S. Air Force Europe. “We’re rated air crew members that come from a mobility background and we can be attached to Army or Marine Corps units,” said Fagan. “There are approximately 70 of us.”
Fagan enlisted into the Air Force in 2001 and after ten years decided he wanted to pursue a commission and become a pilot. “I had been stationed in Japan and joined the aero-club on base there,” said Fagan. “I got my private pilot’s license and decided I wanted to make a career out of that.”
Coming to the 173rd in 2019, Fagan recalled witnessing his first joint forced entry with the brigade. “When the jump happened, I was the drop zone controller on the ground in Romania clearing the aircraft to drop,” said Fagan. “I was standing out there in a cornfield in the middle of the night.” Fagan was struck with how many paratroopers could be amassed in such a small area so quickly.
“Both the Army and the Air Force give me a lot of latitude to figure out where I can best insert myself and then help with the mission, identifying where the friction points are and then figuring out how to facilitate whatever issue we’re having between the Army and the Air Force,” said Fagan.
Recognized across the entire Air Force as top professionals in their field, Gatta as well as Fagan feel that they’ve benefited from their time in the brigade, becoming increasingly proficient in their tasks. “This unit is so busy and the things that we do here are so important that our day-to-day operations just carry a lot of weight,” said Fagan. “It’s neat to be part of a unit like this.”