By Scott Prater
Fort Carson Mountaineer
FORT CARSON, Colo. — Officially, service members assigned to the 13th Air Support Operations Squadron are U.S. Airmen, but if one were to judge them by what they do, Soldier seems an equally fitting title.
They not only deploy along with 4th Infantry Division Soldiers, they eat, live, breathe and fight alongside them.
“There isn’t a better feeling than ending a dangerous situation by calling in an airstrike, then watching a target be vaporized, or an enemy force be neutralized,” said Master Sgt. Mitchell Polu, 13th ASOS Bravo Flight chief. “Everyone is appreciative once the smoke clears. We get the high-fives and celebrating shouts. It’s an exhilarating experience.”
Commanded by Lt. Col. Cory Jeffers, the 13th ASOS falls under the Air Combat Command and provides 4th Infantry Division combat units with forward-deployed Airmen who call in airstrikes and direct the action of close air support.
It takes a unique individual to do the job. Airmen in the squadron typically occupy one of two positions, tactical air control parties or more advanced joint terminal attack controllers.
The unit, based at Fort Carson, consists of 141 Airmen. Most are enlisted members who undergo years of extensive and specialized training to perform their mission. They deploy often and when back at Fort Carson, incur training duty at faraway bases often.
“We have a couple (of) dozen Airmen deployed right now,” said Capt. Timothy Hewitt, 13th ASOS executive officer. “When an Army unit deploys, our guys are embedded with them. JTACs need to be proficient in land navigation and survival, but must also exhibit superior communication skills and be able to convey information quickly to the ground commander and the pilots.”
Communication is the key word here. From their com¬bat positions on the ground, the Airmen converse directly with pilots in an effort to direct bombs, missiles or bullets to precise targets.
“We also communicate with pilots of unmanned vehicles, (such as Reaper and Predator drones) and that makes a difference in how you communicate in any given scenario,” said Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Edmiston, 13th ASOS section NCO in charge. “Unmanned vehicle pilots are often sitting in a seat thousands of miles away. They don’t have (physical) eyes on, so you, as the JTAC, must be aware and adjust the information you provide.”
TACPs and JTACs monitor combat scenarios as they develop and direct a wide and varied number of aircraft, from Army helicopters to Air Force F-16s and A-10s. They also advise mission commanders on scene, so it’s important that they’re knowledgeable and confident.
“The hardest part of our job is that Army units are constantly moving,” Polu said. “Every time we are on a mission, it’s our job as JTACs to ensure the aircraft is tracking the same target that we are tracking. Even if our unit is taking fire, we need to convey the correct ground-target data to the pilot in a cool, calm and collected manner. What we don’t want is for pilots to mistake friendly troops as a target set.”
When at home station, squadron members understand they are an oddity of sorts. There aren’t many Air Force units that operate and deploy directly with Army units, and that creates a bit of confusion for people when they see service members on post with stripes on their sleeves and tiger-stripe patterned uniforms.
“We’re not as well-known because we don’t exist with other Air Force units,” Hewitt said. “And, many folks don’t understand what we do here.”
It’s a small inconvenience, however, considering the camaraderie and esprit de corps developed by the joint service teamwork.
“There are a lot of very close relationships created during the training and deployment phases,” Polu said. “As a result, there’s a great bond that forms between the joint services, which I think you don’t see often at most other places.”