FORT IRWIN, Calif. — In the heart of the Mojave Desert in southeastern California, U.S. Army ground forces engaged in fierce combat with mock insurgents. As the grueling battle intensified with no standstill in sight, these combat warriors remained confident, knowing aerial support was a radio call away.
To the ground troops’ relief, loud booms overpowered the sounds of their gunfire as rapidly approaching aircraft wreaked havoc on their simulated targets with live-bombs, thanks to Air Force Tactical Air Control Parties (TACP) coordinating air strikes.
Conflicts like these during rotation training at Fort Irwin’s National Training Center Feb. 19-23 allowed Soldiers and the participating 93rd Air Ground Operation Wing’s TACPs to enhance their interoperability and proficiency. The month-long rotation positioned 93rd AGOW assets to take advantage of the world’s largest force-on-force live-fire exercise.
“There is no other place to fully integrate and train at the brigade level, with all the services against a near-peer adversary in realistic combat conditions with live ammunition than here,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Wesley Bradford, 12th Combat Training Squadron commander. “For major combat operations, the synchronization and integration must be trained to [standard], and the [NTC] is the perfect place to enhance these skills.”
For Bradford, the NTC’s harsh conditions and the surrounding Mojave Desert make it the ideal place to get Soldiers ready for combat.
He added that the NTC’s platform coincides with the motto of “Train the Force.” The NTC supported Gen. Patton’s readiness prior to World War II and prepared Army and Air Force units to deploy monthly. Exemplifying the importance of interoperability, on July 8, 1941, Patton stated — “to get the harmony in music, each instrument must support the others. To get harmony in battle, each weapon must support the other. Team play wins.”
“The [Air Force’s] Green Flag and [Army’s] NTC assets bring together this team play and champion joint integration in order to maximize combat effectiveness,” said Bradford. “Every soldier will leave here prepared for combat. We will ensure their toughest day in combat takes place here, at the National Training Center, and not downrange.”
For the participating Air Force TACPs, their hardest training days occurred in the chilly mountain ridges during the final week of the rotation. As harsh winds blew freezing breezes, they were challenged as new developments rapidly occurred on the battlefield, forcing them to rely on contingency plans while they assisted pilots to control the airspace and protect ground assets.
“The biggest challenge during this rotation was coordinating with Army assets and synchronizing the live-artillery and close-air support aspects to ensure the proper targets are struck during the live-bomb training,” said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Leo, NTC JTAC observer, coach and trainer.
According to Leo, embracing the challenge of a JTAC is all worth it, adding that the best part of the job is seeing the ‘booms’ and hours of strategizing go as planned.
“It’s great to see our targets explode,” said Leo. “All the effort and coordination involved as a live-fire planner is to make sure that the Army can fully utilize the maximum training efforts we provide at NTC.”
Knowing the critical position that the JTACs play, Leo was proud of how impactful their operations were.
“We enable the Army to maneuver a battlefield with close-air support to (compliment) their weapons such as gunfire and mortars,” said Leo. “By coordinating close-air support, we can enable ground troops to be more efficient by directing firepower at a moment’s notice in the proximity of friendly forces.
“It’s a great honor to see us help save and help the friendly forces on the ground, it’s what I signed up for,” Leo added. “To help observe, coach and train JTACs and soldiers as they prepare to deploy with the world’s best training is the biggest reward.”
While the benefit of successfully enhancing the readiness of military personnel during a large-scale exercise is gratifying, Leo knows to take the lessons learned to better equip the next rotation.
“I’m looking forward to improving on my skills as an observer, coach and trainer, and NTC is the perfect platform to accomplish this,” said Leo. “That’s why NTC’s ability to execute firepower across the services makes the U.S. Armed Forces the best in the world – we put the most lethally trained military members on the battlefield.”