SOLENZARA, Corsica – Senior Airman Tormod Lillekroken makes a
joke to his teammate and flashes a smile to his teammate next to him
as his eyes dart from the map in his hand to an old car about 500
meters in the distance. This is his target, and he's attempting to
pinpoint its exact location. Shielded by bushes on a high hill, he
peeks through openings in the leaves to gather enough information to
describe it to a pilot that he will soon be responsible for
His pilot just checked in over the radio, and
it's like watching someone step into another world. All signs of
joking have abandoned his face and you can almost feel the weight of
responsibility he just took on. It is now all on him to accurately
direct this aircraft to employ weapons in a close air support
Senior Airman Tormod Lillekroken, 2nd Air Support Operations Squadron joint terminal attack controller, talks to a fellow JTAC as part of a training scenario during Exercise Serpentex ‘16 in Corsica, France, March 15, 2016. Lillekroken is one of four American JTACs participating in the French-led NATO exercise with 11 other nations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sara Keller)
Lillekroken is a member of an elite group of Airmen known
as tactical air control party members and has been recently
assigned to the 2nd Air Support Operations Squadron in
The unit's mission is to maintain
mission-ready air liaison, terminal attack control, and
weather observation elements to support the commanders of
U.S Army Europe's subordinate units.
Lillekroken reached a goal TACPs strive for early in their
careers: to be qualified as a joint terminal attack
JTAC is a multinational certification
and is considered a relevant NATO term, along with Forward
Air Controller for qualified service members who direct the
action of air and surfaced-based strikes at the tactical
level. They are the Airmen on the ground with the authority
to control and call in airstrikes on targets.
held this qualification for less than a month, but the
qualification is not a one-time thing. The certifications to
stay current need to be continuously updated and refreshed,
which makes his first exercise, Serpentex ‘16 extremely
beneficial for him.
During the exercise, he is able
to become more experienced and comfortable in his new role,
while at the same time, having the opportunity to train
amongst and learn from some of the more seasoned JTACs in
his unit and from other nations.
Serpentex ‘16 is a
multinational exercise focused on the training of U.S. and
NATO aircrew and JTACs in the air-land integration mission,
to include close air support, dynamic targeting, strike
coordination and reconnaissance, and live ordnance
Lillekroken is participating in the
exercise with three of his fellow JTACs from his home unit,
as they work side by side with JTACs from 12 partner nations
to better understand each other's, techniques and
“I've gotten to work through a few training scenarios with
Lillekroken, and he has adapted very well to everything he is
learning and experiencing for the first time,” said Staff Sgt. Seth
Hunt, 2nd ASOS JTAC.
Lillekroken has been a TACP for a
little over three years. He carries himself with confidence, but he
knows he still has a lot to learn.
He can be quiet, but his
presence is bold. Standing at nearly six feet, broad-shouldered and
strong, his blonde hair and blue eyes give you a glimpse into a past
that was not so long ago.
He considers home, Stange, Norway,
where most of his childhood was spent with his Norwegian father,
American mother and three siblings. Although most of his time was
spent in Norway, his mother took him and his siblings back to the
U.S. on trips to visit family.
Senior Airman Tormod Lillekroken, 2nd Air Support Operations Squadron joint terminal attack controller, reviews training objectives as part of a night training scenario during Exercise Serpentex ‘16 in Corsica, France, March 15, 2016. Lillekroken recently reached his goal to be qualified as a joint terminal attack controller. Lillekroken has been in the tactical air control party career field for more than four years. (U.S. Air Force photo
by Staff Sgt. Sara Keller)
After spending a little more than 20 years in his
hometown, he decided to move to America for good. With $200
to his name, a cousin to help him out and the motivation, he
was determined to make it on his own.
“I left home
and came to America because I wanted to do something
different with my life,” said Lillekroken. “I liked the idea that it was completely
up to me to make it or not. I knew going to America, there
was a possibility of failing and I needed that.”
speaks four languages, and although his first language is
Norwegian, you'd never be able to tell as there is no accent
to hear when he speaks. But ask him how to pronounce his own
name, and it's clear he would fit right back in in his
arriving in America, he made his way to Ithaca, New York,
where he lived with his cousin in a rundown house and worked
a slew of odd jobs ranging from bartender to caretaker; he
did what was necessary to make his own way.
When he was 23 years old, he knew he
wanted more for himself.
“I joined the Air Force
because I wanted to serve,” Lillekroken explained. “I felt
like it was only right to give back to a country that had
given me so much and allowed me to be exactly what I wanted
He boarded a plane to Lackland Air Force
Base, San Antonio the fall of 2011. After accomplishing
basic training, he decided to challenge himself a little
more. He went on to a four-month training course to try and
make it as a TACP.
“Training to become a TACP was
one of the most intense experiences I've ever had,”
Lillekroken said. “We would go through hours of physical
training directly followed by hours of academic work. It was
as much of a mental challenge as it was physical. It was
empowering, and I came out on the other end feeling like I
really accomplished something. I was a part of a real team,
and there's a bond built with your fellow TACPs that's
Lillekroken attributes his ability to
deal with challenging circumstances and approach obstacles
to his mother.
“My mother was a single parent most
of my life,” he said. “She raised four kids, while getting
an education and working, and she made it all look so easy.“
The first three years after technical school he spent in
Fort Benning, Georgia, before moving on to Germany, where he
plans to be for at least three years.
said the intense training, always having something new to
learn and being around some of the most dedicated men in the
Air Force makes TACP one of the greatest career fields in
the Air Force.
“There have been some amazing NCOs
I've met at the 2nd ASOS and throughout my training,” he
said. “I just hope that as I progress in my future, I have
the opportunity to train and help others like they helped
me. I think I would like to be a tech school instructor one
day so that I could help mold our future TACPs in the best
way possible right at the beginning of their careers.”
By U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Sara Keller
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