Troops sit pinned down under attack from a line of enemy vehicles. Insurgents shot down the F-16 coming to help, and the pilot lay stranded near the fighting. On a small hilltop behind a pile of rocks the joint terminal attack controller looks over the scene and coordinates close-air support to help the troops while coordinating with the rescue helicopters coming for the pilot.
This is just one of the scenarios played out during the Cactus Starfighter 21-1 CAS exercise held at Luke Air Force Base and the Barry M. Goldwater Ranger south of Gila Bend April 23 through May 4.
â€œBeing out in the field and actually conducting live training with the aircraft helps with our proficiency,â€ said Staff Sgt. Jacob Torgerson, 116th Air Support Operations Squadron JTAC from Camp Murray, Wash. â€œOur role is first to prevent fratricide and second to keep friendly elements as safe as possible.â€
Not only were the JTACs there to coordinate CAS and rescues they had another goal with the exercise.
â€œAs a JTAC we have to qualify on controlling every six months to stay current,â€ Torgerson said. â€œI was here today to get the last parts of my qualification done.â€
The exercise also helped the pilot who simulated being shot down.
â€œI played the downed pilot waiting to be rescued,â€ said Capt. Christopher Campbell, 310th Fighter Squadron student pilot. â€œThis exercise not only helps the student pilots who flew as CAS but it helped me playing a downed pilot as well. We, as students go through Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training before or after the pilot training course and this gave me the opportunity to practice the training I learned there for getting rescued.â€
Some of the benefits of having this type of exercise at Luke and the Goldwater Range are the rangeâ€™s size and that it looks like Afghanistan, according to the JTACs.
â€œThere are a limited number of ranges in the country we can use, and the Goldwater Range has a large amount of available land as well as local aircraft that are flexible and willing to train with us,â€ Torgerson said. â€œThe environment is also similar to what you would find while deployed â€” itâ€™s hot, dry and the terrain is like that of deployed locations. The bases around the range also have many of the same air assets you would have in theater.â€
With the number of people involved, the exercise was a benefit to the total and joint force. JTACs from Camp Murray worked along with active-duty units and supported each other throughout the exercise.
â€œWe often get attached to active duty units like this while deployed,â€ Torgerson, an NCO in the Air National Guard, said. â€œAn exercise like this gives us a perspective on how those units function. We also got the opportunity to do face-to-face debriefs with pilots as well as the mission planning, and thatâ€™s something we donâ€™t get to do often. It helps us work better with each other and understand where the guard or active duty elements are coming from.â€