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NATO partners conduct close air support exercise

CAMP GRAYLING, Mich. (AFNS) --

Today’s fight against terrorism doesn’t rest on the shoulders of one country. It’s a team fight, meaning countries must be interoperable to effectively defeat that threat.

To better support the team, members of the German air force’s Air Ground Operations Squadron partnered with the 19th Air Support Operations Squadron to conduct a close air support exercise, April 10-14, 2017, at Camp Grayling, Michigan. 

“With everything happening in the Middle East and across the globe, like (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) trying to fight their way into the European area, it provides a legitimate reason as to why we should all get together and become as strong as we can through joint training,” said Master Sgt. Thomas Jenn, the 19th Air Support Operations Squadron division flight chief.

This training is relevant because nearly every operation the U.S. engages in, such as Operation Inherent Resolve, is a joint effort.

“NATO is fighting together as a coalition,” said Maj. Nader Samadi, the German AGOS commander. “We do everything together, whether it’s U.S. or other NATO partners, the standards are the same. We try to work the same ways so we’re interoperable, and that’s the best thing.”

Samadi explained that currently, air-to-air dogfights between aircraft are far less common than air-to-ground strikes or ground-to-ground skirmishes. This makes Tactical Air Control Parties consisting of Joint Terminal Attack Controllers a crucial piece of the battle puzzle.

“Nobody really knows what the JTAC is doing but everybody wants to have them,” said Samadi. “It’s really important because we don’t want civilian casualties. So NATO forces send us JTACs on site to find out the best way to conduct what we call surgical strikes, where we have civilian collateral damage concerns. It’s really important that somebody is there to liaise between the boots on the ground and the air guys. That’s our job, being the liaison and bringing in the biggest weapons.”

With bigger weapons come greater stakes. While the JTACs are attached to ground units, they must be precise with their directions and clear on the radio to effectively put bombs on target.

“It’s extremely unique,” said Jenn. “The TACP and JTAC capability is a lot like a language translator. Two very distinctive branches from the same country speak, think and act differently, so we are that in-between. We can speak Army to the Air Force, and Air Force to the Army.”

As brokers of airpower, being able to convey the ground commander’s intent to the Airmen in the cockpit allows an effective joint effort against the enemy, while also mitigating the potential for error.

“The worst things could go wrong if we can’t understand each other,” said Samadi. “If we didn’t train together or have these opportunities, we cannot set the standards. I’m saying ‘look left there is a tree,’ and (the pilot) is hearing that there’s three to his left. So we have to work together as much as possible to get our synergies, wording and brevity on the same page. If we don’t have that, things can go bad and you hit wrong targets, and then you could have civilian casualties.”

The week of close air support missions, briefings, learning moments and creating bonds allowed almost everyone to walk away being more efficient and more confident in their job.

“Seeing a scenario that is closely mirroring what’s happening overseas right now and seeing some of the tactical problems that we throw at these guys, it makes them think,” said Jenn. “It’s a chance to make mistakes without any negative repercussions. That’s probably one of the best things about it.
 
Not only does the training environment allow error and correction, but it also allows a bond to grow between the NATO allies.
 
“Probably one of my favorite parts is getting to work with all the different coalition partners,” said 1st Lt. Megan Cox, the 19th ASOS air liaison officer. “Just learning about their culture and the way they work, we’re able to just relate to them better. It really strengthens the relationship when you’re working with them downrange.”