JTACs hone skills, tactics in joint total force exercise Published Aug. 25, 2010 By Capt. Alyson Stockton 184th Intelligence Wing Public Affairs SMOKY HILL AIR NATIONAL GUARD RANGE-- -- They don't typically dress like us, train with us, or deploy with us, but they are a part of the newest mission in our Wing. "They" are the men who deliver air assets to ground troops under duress: joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs for short) and they comprise the operating segment of the 284th Air Support Operations Squadron at Smoky Hill. When fully trained and operational, JTACs deploy with the Army, wear Army uniforms, speak the Army language and most importantly, save Army lives. Toward that end, JTACs assigned to the 284th ASOS and visiting air support operations squadrons participated in Operation VIKING STRIKE, a total force close air support exercise held at Smoky Hill Aug. 15-20. The Airmen performed the same duties during the exercise as they will perform on their upcoming deployment, scheduled for next year. They honed basic skills such as mission planning and radio and laser use, and went beyond basics to gain experience reading and reacting to air tasking orders, air strike requests and special instructions. JTACs act as Air Force liaisons to ground combatant commanders, calling in air strikes or other forms of close air support to friendly forces close to the enemy. The scenario goes something like this. Current rules of engagement require close air support to be utilized in a "troops in contact" event, wherein ground forces have come under fire or are in close proximity to insurgents. At the ground commander's direction, a JTAC will call, usually by radio, for backup. JTACs work with air operations staff to task planes and crews equipped to provide close air support. Once the aircraft are overhead the target area, the JTAC will relay the current situation to the aircrew and discuss possible target solutions. Finally, the JTAC directs their fire to the precise target that will maximize friendly forces' safety while eliminating the threat from an enemy. "That's a lot of responsibility we put on senior airmen and staff sergeants--to kill bad buys but make sure no friendlies get killed," said Lt. Col. Gary Nash, 284th ASOS commander. Training exercises like VIKING STRIKE are important because they teach JTACs to integrate threat scenarios and react to rapidly changing information just as they will have to do in theater, said Maj. David Arnold, director of operations at the 284th ASOS. "I'm a big fan of being able to go from one unit to the next to the next, and not being able to tell, except for the scenery's changed," Maj. Arnold said, discussing the need for standardized operating tactics across the total force since different squadrons often share deployment taskings. The 284th will share responsibility for next year's tasking with the 113th ASOS of the Indiana Air National Guard, who they trained with during the exercise. In order to reach initial operating capacity, the squadron needs to recruit and train about 18 more JTACs. It takes about two years of training to reach combat mission-ready status. Physical requirements for consideration are 39 pushups and 45 crunches in one minute, at least two pull-ups, and a 1.5-mile run in under 11:41. More recruiting information is available from an Air National Guard recruiter, who can be reached at 759-7424.