TACP training

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla -- Often seen running on Hurlburt Field roads with ruck sacks, M-16s and bright orange helmets are the tactical air control party students from Detachment 3, 342nd Training Squadron.

When U.S. troops are in combat, the close air support could be called in by a Tactical Air Control Party that trained at Hurlburt Field. Putting bombs on target is their mission.

The students take part in a 73-day technical training course broken down into six blocks of instruction, physical training and a weekly ruck march lasting up to four hours complete with up to 85 pounds of gear.

"After graduation, TACPs are embedded with the Army and will have to be able to use their training in combat" said Tech. Sgt. James Zagorsky, Det. 3, 342nd TRS instructor supervisor. "It's important they learn to do this right."

The first block covers basic career knowledge and associated publications. Part two is the portable communications section where they learn several different procedures and radio language skills.

The third block involves day and night foot navigation, vehicle navigation, convoy training and small unit tactics. It's considered the "make-or-break" block of the school.

Students are taken out in the field for a six-day land navigation, global positioning system, map plotting and compass training exercise. Students live in the dirt and have only what they carry on their back. They'll learn to overcome fear as they train, many times alone, on navigating with map and compass in the dark through the woods.

All the while, the instructors are observing their movements through GPS trackers. They will often ambush the students simulating an actual combat situation. The students are deprived of sleep and put under constant physical duress to see how well they work as a team.

Students on the six-day maneuvers have two opportunities to pass the navigation tests. Should they fail this portion, they fail the course and are gone. If the student quits during the six days, he's not allowed to go back to Hurlburt Field, he's banned to a "graveyard" where they spend the remainder of their time filling sandbags.

"Students will learn to rely on each other while still maintaining a close attention to detail of their own gear," said Staff Sergeant Jesse Brown, field training instructor.

The next block of the training is aircraft and vehicle recognition and air support coordination. The students will be taught how to better understand joint air operation centers and the tactical air control systems. They will be tasked to operate several radios while utilizing aircraft in support of ground operations.

The final block is where all the training comes together. The students go on a three-day "real-world" scenario. They plot targets on maps, request aircraft for close air support using assigned call signs and work convoy procedures. The instructors have set up improvised explosive devices to make sure the students are moving in teams, keeping guard and helping each other as a team.

After graduation, the next step is attending Air Force survival school. A select few will then move on to Army basic airborne school. All the graduates then move onto their assignments at a Army combat maneuver unit. These units can vary from airborne infantry, mechanized or heavy armor tanks. For the next two to three years, they'll be in training to eventually become joint terminal attack controllers or JTACs. After that, a TACP can try out for assignments where they would be attached to Army special forces teams and Ranger units.

The career field is always looking to add Airmen to its ranks.

"We recently began to recruit students from Airman Leadership Schools. We also get several retrainees from all over the Air Force and our sister services," said Master Sgt. Eric Rankin, course superintendent. "If you want a change and want to get in the fight, we are willing to give you that chance."