Integrating close air support into ground operations is more important than ever.
To this end, Air Force Capt. Nathan Thibault, assigned to 15th Air Support Operations Squadron, instructed Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment “Black Lions,” 3rd Infantry Division, on a wide array of topics on Camp Fuji, Japan, June 16-19, 2021, as the Black Lions prepare to support exercise Orient Shield 21-2 this month.
The class taught Soldiers about aircraft capabilities, methods of employment for close air support, air craft munitions, and the roles of Air Force Tactical Air Control Party personnel.
“A large part of our job is giving the TACP targeting data when we're out on the battlefield,” said Sgt. Tristan Ponader, an infantryman assigned to the Black Lions. “We give them targeting data on targets we see on the battlefield, and they help us coordinate airpower to neutralize those targets.”
Thibault serves as part of TACP and is certified to operate as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller. His unit supports 3rd ID, and he went to Japan with the Black Lions to serve as their air liaison.
JTAC personnel like Thibault are qualified and authorized to direct and control close air support aircraft from the ground. As a TACP, Thibault also advises and assists ground force commander and leadership team in overall battlespace management.
“His job as a TACP is to basically be the liaison between the pilots and the target on the ground,” said Ponader. “He has eyes on the ground and is next to the maneuver commander to translate Army speak into Air Force speak.”
Although Thibault will only stay with the Black Lions through the duration of Orient Shield, he has worked diligently to integrate himself into the unit and to share his expertise with the Soldiers around himself.
“If they don't have a JTAC around they are unable to drop bombs and the mission becomes ineffective,” said Thibault. “I taught them how a non-JTAC person can coordinate to get some bombs on target.”
Ponader said the information he got out of the class was useful and will help him better understand the roles of JTAC and TACP airmen.
“This class gives us a little bit more knowledge on what a TACP can bring to the fight and the best techniques and practices to employ them to support us,” said Ponader.
In the coming weeks, the Black Lions will work closely with Japan Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers during Orient Shield. This annual training exercise executed in Japan, helps enhance interoperability between the JGSDF and United States Army and tests and refines multi-domain and cross-domain operations. This year’s exercise will provide opportunities for the Black Lions to demonstrate the skills they gained during Thibault’s classes to their Japanese counterparts.
“We've been told we're going to get some kind of aircraft for Orient Shield,” said Ponader. “We're going to be using it to engage targets during the exercise.”
Whether in training or on the battlefield, airmen routinely support Joint units to provide seamless integration of aircraft into multi-domain operations. Understanding the role of these airmen ensures that the Black Lions can bring even more lethality to the Joint Force by integrating air and land domains.
“Air Force attack platforms are absolutely in support of the number one priority and that's the people on the ground,” said Thibault. “Soldiers are our number one priority.”