Sgt. Tara Fajardo-Arteaga, 113th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Soldiers can hear a subtle roar from the range tower at Zdar Range, Hradiště Military Area, Czech Republic, on March 8, 2022. Czech army soldiers come outside and look up to see what made the noise.
Two MI-24 Hind attack helicopters fly over the range. Suddenly, an L-159 Advanced Light Combat Aircraft (ALCA) fixed-wing subsonic aircraft appears and dives close to the ground toward the tower.
On a hill in the distance, Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Hodges and Senior Airman Driestin Aho, Joint Terminal Air Controllers (JTAC), conduct close air support by identifying and distinguishing between friendly and hostile units and directing, via radio, the actions of the combat aircraft as they fly above the training area. “We work with the Czech counterparts and the Czech aircraft to facilitate strikes from the Czech air force,” explained Hodges.
Hodges and Driestin are members of the U.S. Air Force Special Warfare, Tactical Air Control Party (TACP). JTAC personnel from the U.S. Air Force embedded with Army and Marine units on the frontline while working with Allies. “We were integrated with the Czech JTACs; we were going up there and conducting coordinated airstrikes on strategic targets for the U.S. Army,” said Hodges.
Hodges and Aho are assigned to the 10th Air Support Operations Squadron out of Ft. Riley, Kan., and are currently stationed at Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area, Poland. “The U.S. Army dictates that they want a set amount of JTACs aligned with the Army,” said Hodges. “So we are aligned with these guys and integrate the air picture into the Army scheme of maneuver.” The two Airmen worked alongside the 2nd Battalion, 34th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, and participated in Saber Strike 22, Czech Republic.
“We get assigned to work with an Army unit, so we work with the 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley,” said Aho. “We are working with 2-34.”
While at Saber Strike 22, a multi-national military exercise from February to March, the airmen worked together with the Czech air force to conduct air defense training while also providing close air support to train in case of hostile targets are too close to friendly forces.
Saber Strike 22 gave the U.S. JTACs the chance to work directly with the military of the Czech Republic, which brought together NATO Allies to rehearse critical skills in support of ground operations. “Saber Strike 22 was a very successful exercise,” said Hodges, “It’s vital for us to integrate with our NATO counterparts to know how each of us operates. Working these combined exercises gives each country a chance to show their capabilities and lets them know we’re ready in the event of a conflict.”