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Tactical air control party: not the party you're used to

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mareshah Haynes
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
There are some career fields in the Air Force that are meant for people who are technology minded; those who manipulate algorithms and calculate formulas used to launch missiles and create programs to crush any enemy who feebly attempts to defeat the U.S. military in cyberspace.

Then there are those career fields in the Air Force that are meant for people who like to get their hands dirty, breathe the scent of gun powder, hear rounds whistling past their Kevlar helmets and go to sleep and wake up to muzzle flashes as they crush any enemy who attempts to defeat us on the battlefield.

The career field for these Airmen is tactical air control party.

"A TACP is a member of the Air Force who supports Army ground maneuver units at every maneuver echelon level," said Staff Sgt. Kyle Anderson, a TACP instructor at the 342nd Training Squadron here. "We support everyone on the battlefield. We support them with [close air support] from our F-16s. We control airstrikes and advise our Army counterparts on what Air Force assets are available to them for their missions."

"The biggest part of our job is the liaison function, helping the Army understand Air Force talk and the Air Force understand Army talk," said Staff Sgt. Zachary Atkinson, a 342 TRS TACP instructor. "We make sure the pilots understand what's going on on the battlefield and the ground commanders understand what's going on in the air."

TACP is a male-only, Battlefield Airman career field with its technical training school at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Though the school is open to the qualified and willing, the attrition rate is high and only a few will graduate with their original flights.

Upon arrival at technical training school, students must be able to correctly execute two pull-ups, 39 push ups, 45 crunches and 1.5 miles in 11 minutes and 45 seconds or less. 

"The most challenging part so far has been the ruck marches," said Airman 1st Class Thiago Barosa, a TACP trainee in his third block of training. "I also believe one of the hardest parts will be field week."

"This course is one of the only courses in the military with a ruck march portion," said Sergeant Anderson. "Every week we do a ruck march and each week it gets more strenuous by distance or weight. One week you think you're good and then we increase the weight or the distance and you will definitely feel the effects once you reach the old distance or as soon as you put the new weight on."

"We start off with a four-mile ruck march carrying 25 pounds and we work up to 12-mile ruck carrying anywhere from 70-75 pounds plus all their equipment," Sergeant Atkinson said.

The course consists of six training blocks, some lasting only a few days and other a few weeks, and teaches the TACP hopefuls skills ranging from portable radio communications to calling in close air support from Air Force fighter planes for Army ground units.

Blocks four and six require the students to go out for field exercises where they must learn to operate on very little sleep, in inclement weather conditions and with few creature comforts, such as tents or sleeping bags, all the while honing the skills they've already acquired and learning new ones.

A demanding academic schedule combined with strenuous fitness requirements make for physically and mentally sharp, combat ready Airmen.

Because of their specialized mission and close working relationship with the Army, TACPs are stationed with Army units and quite often are one of very few Airman on the base.

"When the students graduate, they'll be three levels and they'll go to their units and start their [on the job training], and master the tasks needed to assist a joint terminal air controller [seven level TACP]." Sergeant Atkinson said. "After a few years of that they'll enter upgrade training to become a joint terminal air controller and deal more with close air support."

All training requirements aside, it still takes drive to make an Airman accept the challenge to become a TACP.

"I want to do some good in the world on a big scale and as a TACP you can do big things," Airman Barosa said. 

"I want to get directly in the fight," said Airman John Zimmerman, a current TACP student. "I don't want to sit behind a desk or something like that. I like to do hands on stuff and actually get in the fight and help this country to the best of my ability."