By 2nd Lt. Victoria Porto, 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 19, 2011
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. --
Editor's note: This article is part of a series detailing the trials and tribulations of Tactical Air Control Party class Falcon 86 on their journey to become fully qualified Battlefield Airmen.
They've only just started the third week of their 17-week class, but already two have washed out, and two more will likely be out before the end of the week.
This isn't for the weak.
The students in Tactical Air Control Party class Falcon 86 began their 84-training-day journey Jan. 4 at Hurlburt Field, under the strict and demanding eyes of the cadre and instructors from the 342nd Training Squadron Detachment 3.
If they survive those 84 days, they will join the less than 1,200 TACPs in the Air Force advising ground commanders on using the right air power to achieve the effects they desire and directing close-air support attacks.
"We're translators between the Army and the Air Force, we match the wants to the needs to make positive impacts on the battlefield," said Tech. Sgt. Thomas Jenn, Falcon 86 instructor and supervisor, a career TACP with almost 10 years of experience.
The class consists of rigorous academics, physical training, small unit tactics, combatives and a 5-day field training exercise where they must work as a team to demonstrate their proficiency in all of their new skills.
Their days start in the dark morning hours at the PT field, or "The Jungle," as it's better known. Push-ups, flutter-kicks, sprint. Again. Push-ups, flutter-kicks, sprint. But there are also obstacles, sand pits, 4-, 6- and 8-mile ruck marches with 25-, 35- or 45-pound packs on their backs, helmets on their heads and rifles in their hands.
"We try to simulate as much combat stress as we can in a controlled environment to get guys prepared when bullets actually do start flying and there's no chance to make a mistake," Sergeant Jenn said.
After a quick shower and breakfast, they move to academics, learning skills like security precautions, antenna theory, radio troubleshooting and repair. There are lectures, discussions and demonstrations. They are expected to perform.
Even when the duty day is over, there is usually still more PT to do, more equipment to prepare, more lessons to study, just to keep up.
2nd Lt. Houston Nelson, Falcon 86 class leader, and Airman Luke Bates, who only has seven months total on active duty, are two of the 42 individuals in Falcon 86 who volunteered for this demanding new life.
"I wanted to do something for my country, but I didn't want to be a desk jockey. I wanted to make a difference in the battlefield," Airman Bates said.
Lieutenant Nelson learned about the TACP career field while he was a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy. For him, being involved and making a difference in the battlefield was all about deploying.
"For us it's an honor, a good thing to be deployed," he said.
And they will deploy. According to Sergeant Jenn, many of them will be in the desert or on their way to the dessert within six months of graduation.
With that kind of pressure to learn and master their skills before deploying, 17 weeks doesn't seem like such a long time anymore. So how are they doing now, at the start of week three?
"It's not a joke. You have your off days, you get up and you really don't want to do PT, but you have to run. You have to do it," Airman Bates said. "It's been very cold this past week. You just have to keep doing it."
Lieutenant Nelson agreed.
"Every day is a challenge, whether working as a team or trying to figure out your own individual weaknesses and strengths. You have to conquer them and utilize them to your best advantage," he said.
The instructors at the schoolhouse are looking for that kind of motivation to produce the best of the best. They are looking for that physical prowess, mental maturity and attention to detail that is so hard to teach.
It's only the beginning, but they're already fighting to earn their spot as a Battlefield Airmen, an elite designation reserved for only four career fields: TACPs, Combat Controllers and Special Tactics Officers, Pararescuemen and Combat Rescue Officers, and Combat Weathermen.
11 days down, 73 to go.