22nd STS brings air power to the fight on the ground
By Tyler Hemstreet , Staff writer
/ Published October 09, 2007
MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Editor's note: Due to operations security, some 22nd Special Tactics Airmen are not fully identified in this story.
The demand for joint terminal air controllers in the Global War on Terror is at an all-time high.
In deployed locations, JTACs work closely with Special Operations Forces from the Army, Navy and Marines to integrate air power with ground forces movements. 22nd Special Tactics Squadron Airmen here not only fill the role of JTACs, but are also trained to conduct assault zone surveys, provide air traffic control services and execute airfield seizures -- giving them the ability to quickly take over and transform a sub-standard airfield for friendly aircraft to land safely.
"Every Special Forces team [from the other branches] wants a JTAC with them because they are so valuable to the fight," said one 22nd STS lieutenant combat controller who recently returned from a five month deployment. "The teams want that contact with air support when they're out there."
And that's a demand the 22nd STS here is happy to supply. Through constant training on various insertion methods, 22nd STS Airmen build conformability with high-risk activities such as jumping out of aircraft, riding dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles and performing deep water dives, said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Lamonica, 22nd STS.
"The ultimate goal is to insert into any environment safely and without detection," Sergeant Lamonica said. "The goal of the training is to get it to be second nature because once you arrive at your destination, the hard part of the job starts."
Playing a big role in the vital link between ground forces and air power is something all up-and-coming JTACs take very seriously.
"Working with the SOF units, there's going to be all eyes on you when it comes to talking to the aircraft, so you really want to have all your training down tight," said one senior airman combat controller who's scheduled to deploy in a few months.
Knowing how to handle various weapons, calling in air strikes, moving and working with SOF teams are all tasks of a combat controller, Sergeant Lamonica said.
"Our combat controllers provide an Airman's perspective to solving the problems on the ground when talking to ground forces commanders," he said. "Our guys know what the capabilities of the firepower and what each air strike can or can't accomplish."
The wide range of skills the job of combat controller requires excites those who have yet to work in a deployed location with another service's unit.
"The level of multitasking required was a big surprise to me," said another 22nd STS senior airman who recently completed combat control training and is awaiting his first deployment. "But it's great because others can depend on you for anything out there."
Due to the special nature of the squadron's duties, it requires a large support staff to pack parachutes and maintain the radio equipment, tactical vehicles, snowmobiles, ATVs and dirt bikes. There are also Airmen who work to maintain the squadron's many weapons and overall equipment supply.
"They play an important role because we have needs that are unique to us," Sergeant Lamonica said.
When the 22nd STS is tasked for a deployment, the Airmen and civilians of combat support also play a role in completing the mission, he said.
That can sometimes mean riding on a convoy to deliver a fixed radio to a team or accompanying the combat controllers on the aircraft during an insertion, Sergeant Lamonica said.
"They embrace the warrior culture," he said. "The warrior ethos bleeds throughout every section in the squadron."