NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — For the first time in the 64 year history of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School, Joint Terminal Attack Airmen received advanced instructor diplomas Dec. 15, 2012.
JTACs are responsible for communicating with pilots from all services and advising ground force commanders on where and how to attack enemy forces. They control attacks from aircraft and artillery while keeping non-combatants and friendly forces safe.
The Air Force Weapons School has been upgrading their curriculum since 1949 to teach Air Force officers how to use all available assets in war. For the past ten plus years, enlisted JTACs have proved to be a critical asset for controlling air space and winning battles
“The reason the Air Force enlisted JTACs are integrated at the Air Force Weapons School is because they are a weapons system personified,” said Col. Robert Garland, U.S. Air Force Weapons School Commandant. “They integrate with 29 other weapons systems that collectively ensure our Nation prevails in battlespace dominance.”
The success brought by JTACs is what turns the tide during harrowing situations for friendly ground forces. A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot Maj.Ryan Hayde, 66th Weapons Squadron director of operations, has worked with JTACs numerous times, eliminating threats and saving American lives.
In one battle, Hayde recalls a JTAC clearing a helicopter to rescue a critically wounded soldier and calling close air support using two B-1B Lancers, two F-15E Strike Eagles and four A-10s while returning fire with his rifle.
“The JTAC marked twenty targets that were keeping the helicopter from landing,” said Hayde. “During the eight-hour fight, we dropped every bomb off all the aircraft and got the wounded soldier on the helicopter and out of the fight.”
As an integral part of the process, the Air Force needs JTACs for successful close air support missions. To capitalize on their abilities, the U.S. Air Force Weapons School created a JTAC advanced instructor course.
The initial instructor cadre, a group of seven JTACs, validated the course and then graduated.
Collectively, these Airmen have over 58 years of experience; have eliminated over 2,000 enemies using a million pounds of ordnance without any collateral damage. Among other decorations, they have been awarded 14 bronze stars (three with valor), seven combat action medals and two purple hearts.
The JTAC cadre compiled the learning objectives of pilots and JTACS, so they could train and learn together in the six-month course.
“Before the instructor course, we were facilitating their [pilots] training to give them realism in what they would actually face in a combat scenario,” said Capt. Michael Smith, JTAC Advanced Instructor Course commander. “Now, we integrated our syllabus with their syllabus to achieve each of our training objectives simultaneously.”
While in classrooms with pilots, the JTAC cadre learned valuable lessons that they will highlight for future JTAC students.
“One of the biggest learning objectives that I got as a student was integrating the ground forces with flying, cyber and space assets into one mission set,” said Senior Master Sgt. Adam Vizi, Weapons School JTAC instructor. “I can advise my ground force commander that, not only does the Air Force provide close air support, but we have a myriad of other assets available, and I know the people to talk to and get that for you.”
Going through the U.S. Air Force Weapons School, the enlisted JTACS are exposed to the same graduate level academics that officers receive.
“The JTAC instructor course is as robust as any officer Weapons Instructor Course that trains in the School today,” said Garland. “As the Commandant, I look forward to the day and the opportunity to upgrade the JTAC advanced enlisted course to an Air Force Weapons Instructor Course in the near future.”
The education JTACs receive from the Weapons School will be sent out to other JTACs around the Air Force. The first student class of JTACs, class 13-A, started Jan. 7, 2013 and are projected to graduate June 15, 2013.
“As they graduate and get sent back to their units, they bring the same education from the Weapons School to teach other JTACs,” said Master Sgt. Bryan Patton, U.S. Air Force Weapons School JTAC instructor. “It will professionalize and standardize the training and highlight techniques that work in different combat situations.”
Airmen from Tactical Air Control Party and Combat Controller career fields who are JTAC instructors at their home stations are eligible to attend the course. TACP and CCTs from different bases in different commands are able to come together and gain knowledge while sharing experience.
“We are happy to be here, we are learning skills you would not find anywhere else,” said Staff Sgt. David Dunn, 321st Special Tactics Squadron CCT. “This gives us a chance to bring something new to our career field and teach our guys to be better JTACs.”
“Knowing the level of guys that the Weapons School puts out made me want to be here,” said Tech. Sgt. Clint Herbison, TACP from Air Ground Operations School, Einsiedlehof, Germany. “We want to be the best of what we do, and this is the obvious direction that will enhance our training”