A convoy of military vehicles rolled over gravel roads and
splashed dust into the cool air. Polish 18th Airborne Battalion
infantrymen exited their vehicles and began preparing their
Nearby, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Sam Salcedo,
146th Air Support Operations Squadron tactical air control party
specialist, was also prepping his equipment. He was mentoring U.S.
Air Force Airman First Class Jonathan Moran, 146 ASOS tactical air
control party specialist, who recently graduated one of the first
stages of TACP technical training.
Moran was double checking
his lists and following instruction from Salcedo when the 18th
Airborne Battalion ground commander emerged from the cloud of
Salcedo reached towards the ground commander
and they shook hands.
“I’ll be your main JTAC [joint
terminal attack controller],” Salcedo said to the ground commander.
“Okay, we’re going live tonight,” he replied with a smile.
Although there was a slight communication barrier, both
buzzed with excitement for the scenario.
TThe 146 ASOS TACPs
fell into one of the two foot patrols, and another night mission at
Northern Strike 17 began.
Capt. James Roe, Arizona Army National Guard A-158 Infantry
commander, and Staff Sgt. Laurence Paradis, a tactical air control
party specialist with the 146th Air Support Operations in Oklahoma
City, plan the integration of close air support during a maneuvering
exercise near near Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center,
Michigan, Aug. 2, 2017. Members of the 146 ASOS joined more than 50
other TACP specialists from NATO allies and U.S. forces to integrate
with various sister services during Northern Strike 17 from July 31
to Aug. 11, 2017. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman
Northern Strike is a massive, one-of-a-kind joint terminal air
attack controller-centric exercise that spans more than 100 miles
across the northern portion of Michigan.
Since its creation
in 2011, the exercise has grown from 500 participants to attracting
more than 5,500 in 2017. The intention of the exercise is to prepare
military personnel for a deployed environment, which means working
alongside joint and integrated forces.
So far, it’s proved
In 2017, Northern Strike became one of 43
programs worldwide to receive Joint National Training Capability
JNTC is a program of the Department of
Defense working to better prepare military personnel in realistic
joint environments with other services. Receiving the accreditation
validates not only the importance of Northern Strike, but also the
quality of training for the participants.
At the heart of
the exercise, Master Sgt. Ben Lake, 146 ASOS standards and
evaluations evaluator, and Maj. Karl Hurdle, 146 ASOS air liaison
officer, worked tirelessly months before and during NS17
Lake had to fill more than 540
flying hours of close air support for the exercise. With more than
70 TACPs to choose from, he hand picked them based on skill level
and experience to best fulfill the needs of the mission set.
“I was very happy to know that my guys got the training I
provided for them,” Lake said. “This type of training has further
prepared them to save someone else’s life, save their own life and
be combat ready when they deploy.”
There were 22 TACPs with
the 146 ASOS at NS17. They made up the largest TACP contingent of
the exercise, and all of them experienced live-fire scenarios, many
with multi-national partners.
Senior Airman Brandon Hobbs, a member of the 146th Air Support
Operations Squadron in Oklahoma City, controls air space after
dismounting a Bravo Company, 4th Amphibious Assault Battalion, 4th
Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve amphibious assault vehicle
during a dry fire exercise at Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training
Center, Michigan, during exercise Northern Strike 17, Aug 4, 2017.
Tactical air control party specialists utilized the integrated
training by controlling air assets on a multi-purposed range complex
during Northern Strike 17 from July 31 to Aug. 11, 2017. (U.S. Air
National Guard photo by Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)
Each qualified TACP specialist was able to communicate with the
involved ground commanders and pilots before each scenario began.
The real-world experience of serving as a liaison between the
aircraft and the ground commanders benefitted both seasoned TACP
specialists and newcomers.
“The exercise encompasses
everything you would find downrange, minus getting shot at,” said
Staff Sgt. Zach Scheffler, 146 ASOS TACP instructor. “You know, it’s
overwhelming at first. But, seeing stuff like this at Northern
Strike is only going to make our guys more prepared for a
The training scenarios had virtually endless
possibilities. On some ranges, JTACs were able to integrate with
large U.S. Army National Guard maneuver elements during live-fire
scenarios. On others, they integrated with U.S. Marines Forces
Reserve and controlled airspace from amphibious assault vehicles.
These mission sets also created multiple opportunities for
experienced TACPs to work with younger Airmen on facing challenges
that may arise when deployed.
“This was crucial for our
younger Airman to be here at Northern Strike,” said Salcedo. “It’s
easy to train in a classroom environment when there is air
conditioning and we’re sitting down. But it’s so much harder to do
things when we are actually in the field, like following a combat
maneuver team with live CAS [close air support] flying and live
bullets flying around. It’s crucial for these young guys to get
thrown into environments like this.”
Staff Sgt. Laurence Paradis, a 146th Air Support Operations
Squadron tactical air control party specialist at Will Rogers Air
National Guard Base in Oklahoma City, holds a position during an
exercise near Alpena, Michigan, Aug 6, 2017. Paradis called
simulated air-to-ground strikes from an overhead F-16 Fighting
Falcon during Northern Strike 17 from July 31 to Aug. 11, 2017.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)
Northern Strike 17 benefited the 146 ASOS on many levels. The
exercise provided incredibly rare training experiences, the
opportunity to integrate with joint forces and a vessel for
After the night mission with the Polish 18th
Airborne Infantry Battalion, Salcedo and Moran sat under a starry
Michigan sky for a few minutes to talk about improving on their next
Both of them are at different skill levels, and
both of them are ready for the next challenge. For one, that means
the next phase of training and for the other a probable deployment.
Whatever comes next, whatever the call may be, Northern Strike
17 has only made them even more ready for the challenges ahead.
by Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Tyler Woodward
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