By Staff Sgt. J. Aaron Breeden
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
FORT CARSON, Colo. — Sixteen hours of mind-melting training proved fruitful for six air liaison officers assigned to the 13th Air Support Operations Squadron, earning them the right to wear the coveted tactical air control party black beret July 26.
This training, known as Beret Day, included an Air Force PT test, land navigation, radio programming and communication operations, and rounded out the day with a 12-mile ruck march wearing 70 pounds of gear.
Capt. Gilbert Garcia Jr., Delta Flight commander, had a month’s notice to begin training for Beret Day.
“My daily job was to get ready for Beret Day,” said Garcia. “The worst thing about it was that I had no idea what they were going to do. I’ve heard stories of Beret Days in the past, but I just didn’t know what to expect.”
Having a month to prepare, Garcia felt comfortable with the physical demands he knew he would experience, but was more concerned with the technical details of the other activities.
“I was actually more worried about how to do the 9-lines and med-evacs and call for fires and how to operate the radios correctly and program them,” said Garcia. “With the physical aspect I was like, ‘I’ll do as much as I can, the best I can, but there’s going to be a point where I can’t do any more push-ups and I got to that point.”
Garcia’s assistant commander, Capt. Tim Hewitt, had only been assigned to the 13th ASOS for three weeks before he was notified that he would be participating in Beret Day.
During the days leading up to the event, Hewitt spent his time running mountain trails in an effort to acclimate to the altitude more quickly, he said.
“I was worried that I wasn’t going to have enough time to get my body prepped,” said Hewitt. “To be given a chance to go out and do something like this — it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so the nerves didn’t really get to me.”
“As long as you put everything on the line, nerves don’t really matter at that point,” Hewitt added.
Garcia and Hewitt agreed the worst of the day’s events was the ruck march.
“There were rumors that we were going to do an Army PT test immediately afterwards and I felt barely capable of being able to do it, especially after I stopped walking,” said Garcia. “As long as we kept moving we were fine, but once we stopped and dropped the rucks, it hurt.”
After a shower and a much needed break, Garcia, Hewitt and the rest of the ALOs gathered in the squadron’s auditorium for the beret presentation.
“It was kind of surreal,” said Hewitt. “I’ve had other ceremonies in the past, when I had my wings pinned on … my parents were there for that, but this time it was actually the first ceremony where I didn’t have any family support. It was kind of nice because it was just me and the guys that were out there in the field.”
Garcia added that his favorite portion of the ceremony was not just receiving the beret but the presentation of the beret from his instructors and their words on what the beret meant.
“They were all very genuine,” said Garcia. “Seeing these men stand up to share their feelings about what the beret means to them was truly special.”
Senior Airman Caleb Mason, 13th ASOS Beret Day cadre, recounted his thoughts from the presentation and the significance he finds in the beret.
“For ALOs, the beret is about earning the respect of your men,” said Mason. “To see an individual go through (Beret Day) willingly and learn and become like his enlisted personnel is a huge form of respect for me. It is respect, 100 percent.”
“It is a kick start to the bond and respect that is built between enlisted and officer personnel,” Mason added.
Having a taste of the hardships and an understanding of what a TACP must endure to earn their beret, Hewitt remarked on how important Beret Day is to strengthening the bond he shares with his men.
“As an officer, I find it really hard to lead someone when I don’t understand where they come from,” said Hewitt.
“Receiving the beret wasn’t a ‘gimme,’” Hewitt added. “It was something that we earned based on the task that (the TACPs) set in front of us and they felt very strongly that the beret signified a bond between (us), meaning there is no separation between the ALOs and the TACPs that they are in charge of.”