Story and photos by Andrea Sutherland
In the skies above training ranges, two F-16 Fighting Falcons of the Colorado Air National Guard, 120th Fighter Squadron, flew, skimming the horizon above Fort Carson where a makeshift village occupied by “enemy” forces stood.
As the F-16s tore across the sky, simulated surface-to-air rocket attacks from enemy fighters soared above the village.
Across the range from the village, Air Force Maj. Robert Brooks radioed coordinates of the attack, describing the view from his vantage point on the ground to the pilots circling above.
“The terminal-air-controllers have a different perspective than the guys in the air,” said Air Force Capt. Aaron Cleveland. “(Pilots) can see for miles while the ground point of view is much smaller.”
In another location across the range, cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy and Air Force ROTC as well as young officers wishing to cross into the air liaison officer career field observed the training demonstration, which was part of their six-day Air Liaison Officer Aptitude Assessment.
Cleveland, an ALO with the 13th Air Support Operations Squadron at Fort Carson, said communicating effectively with aircraft is essential to supporting combat missions; so essential that the job normally held by enlisted airmen with officers from combat aircraft spending two- to three-year stints in leadership roles recently opened to non-flier officers as a permanent career field.
“(The new career field) provides continuity for airmen,” Cleveland said. “(Otherwise) you’re always training somebody new every two-three years.”
ALOs work with Army combat units, requesting air support for troops when needed.
“A lot of what we do is integrated with the Army,” Cleveland said, adding that the new career model will help foster relationships between the Army unit and Air Force support. “(An ALO) comes in and may build a good relationship with the Army, but then leaves two years later. … You need (officers) there to help build that consistency.”
To build the corps of officers, cadets from the academy and Air Force ROTC and young officers traveled to Fort Carson Aug. 1-6 for the Air Liaison Officer Aptitude Assessment.
“They’re getting a smattering of what we do in the career field in six days,” said Air Force Master Sgt. William Feger, 13th ASOS.
Feger said the students participated in land navigation, road marches, physical training tests and tactical movements — training typical of Army units.
“They’re tired,” said Air Force 1st Lt. Dan Beirne, evaluator from 19th ASOS, Fort Campbell, Ky. “We’re trying to peel back the onion and see if they have what it takes. They will be the backbone of this career field.”
Throughout the week, the 35 hopefuls dwindled to 16.
“We’re looking for strong leadership, someone who builds a stronger team and better (Tactical Air Control Party) all around,” Beirne said.
Air Force 2nd Lt. Rainer Caparas, 13th ASOS, completed similar air liaison officer training at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., in April.
“I joined the military because I wanted to be part of the fight,” he said. “If you’re not going to fly, there’s only so many jobs you can do to be part of that fight.”
Caparas, a 2012 graduate of the academy, said he knew he wanted to join the air liaison career field when it opened to officers in 2009.
“It’s an offensive job,” he said. “You’re taking it to the bad guys. You’re also saving lives. … We’re force multipliers. If somebody is pinned down, we can help.”
Caparas said he prepared for the intense training and lack of sleep — he said he only got 15 hours of sleep throughout his six-day training — because he knew this was the career path he wanted.
“(The training) is a kick in the (rear),” he said. “There’s a lot of PT, a lot of yelling. It’s pretty rigorous. … I knew what I was getting into. I knew I wanted this. I was willing to put up with whatever I had to to get into the career field.”