Grounded: Idaho pilots land to work with Idaho Soldiers

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Col. Shannon Smith, commander of the 124th Fighter Wing, visits with Col. Scott Sheridan, the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team commander, at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., June 5, 2019. The 124th ASOS is working with the 190th Fighter Squadron to support the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team from the Idaho Army National Guard. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Mercedee Wilds)

During combat operations, there’s no substitute for the ability to talk face-to-face with a supporting unit.

For pilots from the 124th Fighter Wing’s 190th Fighter Squadron, this means landing their A-10 Thunderbolt IIs in a dry lake bed to discuss current operations with the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team’s air liaison officer while supporting the brigade’s National Training Center rotation at Fort Irwin, Calif., June 4-9.

“We can talk about the latest conditions on the battlefield,” said 124th Air Support Operations Squadron Maj. Johnny Reyes, the brigade’s air liaison officer. “They can get the latest update on the commander’s intent for use of close air support.”

The Idaho Air National Guard’s 190th Fighter Squadron is supporting the 116th CBCT’s month-long NTC rotation through its participation in Green Flag-West 19-8, a realistic air-land integration combat training exercise. Pilots launch out of Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., to provide close air support to the 116th CBCT in the brigade’s fight against opposing forces provided by the U.S. Army’s 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.

Idaho Air National Guard Maj. Johnny Reyes left talks with a 190th Fighter Squadron A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot June 4, 2019, at the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team’s tactical operations center at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif. Reyes, an air liaison officer with the 124th Air Support Operations Squadron, is aligned with the Army National Guard’s 116th CBCT, headquartered in Boise. Both the 190th Fighter Squadron and 124th ASOS fall under the 124th Fighter Wing, also headquartered in Boise. (Army photograph by Cpl. Alisha Grezlik)

Pilots spent the week completing qualification landings on the NTC’s Freedom Landing Strip to be prepared to land in austere environments in a combat environment.

“The training gives us the confidence we can do it in a combat situation if required,” said Lt. Col. “Champ” Clark, 190th Fighter Squadron commander.

Landing in austere conditions is a task the A-10 Thunderbolt II is well designed for, Clark said. The aircraft’s twin engines are placed high on the aircraft, minimizing the risk the engines could be damaged during landing. Its tires are wide and rugged. Its high ground clearance assists with landing on less-than-ideal surfaces.

“It’s the same as landing on a paved runway, but different,” Clark said. “You have to ensure you land soft and you can’t really break as much as you’d like to. The runway is a little rougher. It’s a little more challenging, so you have to be more careful.”

Once pilots land, they have the ability to communicate directly with Soldiers and Airmen on the ground, including the unit’s air liaison officer, the ground force commanders, and their staffs.

An A-10 Thunderbolt II, from the 124th Fighter Wing, Boise, Idaho, performs a show of force at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, Calif., June 6, 2019. A show of force is designed to deter further conflict with enemy forces. (Army photograph by Master Sgt. Joshua C. Allmaras)

Reyes and the 190th ASOS is aligned with the 116th CBCT. Because the 124th Fighter Wing’s and the 116th CBCT’s headquarters are located less than a mile apart on Gowen Field in Boise, Reyes is able to fully integrate into the brigade’s staff. Reyes and the unit’s joint terminal attack controllers deploy anywhere the 116th CBCT does coordinate the use of close air support to support the brigade’s deep fight. The 190th Fighter Squadron’s participation in Green Flag-West happened to coincide with the brigade’s NTC rotation.

“It’s really cool to work with Idaho Army National Guard Soldiers,” Clark said. “Those relationships we build at home, we continue out here and take back with us.”

Rayes said it would tie up brigade communication channels for a significant period of time to communicate all of the latest updates to pilots in the sky. In addition, pilots are able to offer updates to the unit’s maps based off what they saw on their way to the brigade’s tactical operations center, which helps improves the brigade’s common operating picture.

An A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 190th Fighter Squadron, Idaho Air National Guard executes an austere landing and take off on the Freedom Landing Strip, June 6-7, 2019, at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif. The capability to land at an austere location enables pilots and ground forces to better integrate their combat capabilities. The 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team is training at the National Training Center May 24 through June 20 to prepare for its wartime mission. The rotation builds unit and Soldier proficiency to provide combatant commanders with a trained and ready force capable of fighting and winning our nation’s wars. (Army photograph by Sgt. Mason Cutrer)

“Pilots serve as an extension of the tactical air control party and get a lot of work done in the deep fight,” Reyes said.

The 116th CBCT’s tactical air control party consists of Reyes, more than a dozen 190th ASOS JTACs, two Marine JTACs and five members of the Brazilian Special Operations Command.

The 116th CBCT is comprised of 3,000 Soldiers, including 1,800 from 137 Idaho communities and 1,200 Soldiers from the Montana, Nevada and Oregon Army National Guards. The unit is completing a month-long rotation at the National Training Center to build combat readiness and improve Soldier proficiency in their wartime missions. More than an additional 1,000 Soldiers from units in nine Army National Guard states are supporting the 116th CBCT’s rotation. The 116th CBCT is one of five National Guard armored brigade combat teams.
 

An A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 190th Fighter Squadron, Idaho Air National Guard executes an austere landing and take off on the Freedom Landing Strip, June 6-7, 2019, at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif. The capability to land at an austere location enables pilots and ground forces to better integrate their combat capabilities. The 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team is training at the National Training Center May 24 through June 20 to prepare for its wartime mission. The rotation builds unit and Soldier proficiency to provide combatant commanders with a trained and ready force capable of fighting and winning our nation’s wars. (Army photograph by Sgt. Mason Cutrer)