Class trains airmen in tactical, communication skills
BY JERRY WOFFORD World Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2012
9/13/12 at 8:10 AM
BRAGGS - Tech. Sgt. Brandon White is a chameleon.
As a joint terminal attack controller - or JTAC - in the Air National Guard, he coordinates strikes and surveillance between forces on the ground and forces in the air, but it requires him to be on the ground with those soldiers or Marines, to see what they see.
He has to blend his tactical skills with his communication expertise.
"Whatever they do, we do," White said. "If they're jumping out of Blackhawks, we're jumping out of Blackhawks."
Now, White and 11 other members of the Oklahoma Air National Guard's 138th Fighter Wing, based in Tulsa, are training Air National Guard airmen from 14 states to become JTACs, a position that is in greater demand as technology increases their ability to provide more support on the battlefield.
The 138th Combat Training Flight, a detachment of the Tulsa unit based at Camp Gruber, will graduate its first class next week, with four more eight-week sessions scheduled for next year. The first class from Camp Gruber marks a shift in how the Air National Guard trains airmen to become JTACs.
Lt. Col. Rustan Schwichtenberg, commander of the 138th Combat Training Flight, said each of the operational units around the country trained their own JTACs, which distracted from their primary ongoing missions. In the cases of some National Guard units doing the training one weekend a month, it could take more than a year to complete.
"We are relieving the operational units of all that pressure," he said.
The airmen are trained first as communication experts. They relay pertinent battlefield information back to those controlling aircraft, artillery or missiles related to targets, other targets that should be surveilled and conduct reconnaissance on forward positions. Being in the battlefield embedded with other troops on the ground gives the best perspective, White said.
Being in the battlefield, sometimes embedded with troops on the forward line, requires the airmen to keep up. That makes the JTACs one of the Air Force's more elite, fit and diversely skilled forces, Schwichtenberg said.
"These guys are just the right mix of bravado, technical savvy, knowledge levels; all these things together for that right guy to be on the ground," he said. "They're a mixture of this real tactical dude, and all these command and control functions."
The 138th Combat Training Flight was approved to do the training last December after their former training mission in Fort Sill had ended. In six months, the staff moved their operations to facilities at Camp Gruber and developed the broad curriculum.
"It was a perfect fit," Schwichtenberg said. "The timing was right, the cost was right and we were able to make it happen in rapid fashion."
The training provided by the 138th Combat Training Flight will make the airmen eligible to be JTACs-in-waiting, he said. The home commander must sign off on the training and they must work with other JTACs and complete other training before being fully complete.
But the new training path by the 138th will aim to cut the time it takes to complete that process from about five years to two, Schwichtenberg said. That will put more of the JTACs in the field quicker with more standardized training, fulfilling the increasing need for JTACs in the field.
"Just because the wars are drawing down, the requirement for how many JTACs are needed in the force overall is actually increasing," he said. "They've seen the effectiveness of having an embedded air force controller in the Army's scheme of maneuver on the ground. How we fight and use these maneuvers is only become more in vogue for how we use these on the ground."
Original Print Headline: Chameleons in training
Jerry Wofford 918-581-8310
Air National Guard members train on rappelling on one of the towers at Camp Gruber near Braggs on Wednesday. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World
Training instructor and Oklahoma Air National Guard Tech Sgt. Brandon White gets the go-ahead to demonstrate rappelling on one of the towers at Camp Gruber near Braggs on Wednesday during training. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World