A U.S. Air Force combat controller prepares to contact the special tactics operation center by radio while conducting a drop zone survey in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 24, 2010, during Operation Unified Response. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock)
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Combat controllers from here train at an undisclosed location. Air Force combat controller teams support special operations under clandestine, covert or low-visibility conditions. (U.S. Air Force photo)
OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM -- Combat controllers practice firing movements on the range at a forward-deployed location supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. Air Force combat controller teams are trained to conduct and support special operations under clandestine, covert or low-visibility conditions. (U.S Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock)
Mission Air Force Special Operations Command's combat controllers, or CCT, are Battlefield Airmen assigned to special tactics squadrons. The CCT mission is to deploy undetected into combat and hostile environments to establish assault zones or airfields, while simultaneously conducting air traffic control, fire support, command and control, direct action, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance and special reconnaissance.
Motto Their motto, "First There," reaffirms the combat controller's commitment to undertaking the most dangerous missions behind enemy lines by leading the way for other forces to follow.
Training Combat controllers are among the most highly trained special operations force in the U.S. military. They maintain their core skill as air traffic controllers throughout their career in addition to other unique skills. They are trained in infiltration methods including static-line and freefall parachuting, scuba, rubber raiding craft, all-terrain vehicles, rappelling and fast rope methods. Most qualify and maintain currency as joint terminal attack controllers.
The initial 35-weeks of training and unique mission skills earn them their initial certification and the right to wear the distinctive scarlet red beret. An additional 11-12 months of advanced skills training takes place at the Special Tactics Training Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla., before they can be assigned to an operational special tactics squadron and considered combat ready.
Combat Control Screening Course, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas This 10-day screening course focuses on physical fitness with classes in sports physiology, nutrition, basic exercises, CCT history and fundamentals.
Combat Control Operator Course, Keesler AFB, Miss. This 15 and a half-week course teaches aircraft recognition and performance, air navigation aids, weather, airport traffic control, flight assistance service, communication procedures, conventional approach control, radar procedures and air traffic rules. This is the same course that all Air Force air traffic controllers attend and is the core skill of a combat controller's job.
U.S. Army Airborne School, Fort Benning, Ga. Trainees learn the basic parachuting skills required to infiltrate an objective area by static line airdrop in a three-week course.
U.S. Air Force Basic Survival School, Fairchild AFB, Wash. This two- and a half-week course teaches basic survival techniques for remote areas. Instruction includes principles, procedures, equipment and techniques, which enable individuals to survive, regardless of climatic conditions or unfriendly environments and return home.
Combat Control School, Pope AFB, N.C. This 13-week course provides final combat controller qualifications. Training includes physical training, small unit tactics, land navigation, communications, assault zones, demolitions, fire support and field operations including parachuting. At the completion of this course, each graduate is awarded the 3-skill level (journeymen), scarlet beret and CCT flash.
Special Tactics Advanced Skills Training, Hurlburt Field, Fla. Advanced skills training is a 12-to-15-month program for newly assigned combat controller operators. AST produces mission-ready operators for the Air Force and U.S. Special Operations Command. The AST schedule is broken down into four phases: water, ground, employment and full mission profile. The course tests the trainee's personal limits through demanding mental and physical training. Combat controllers also attend the following schools during AST:
U.S. Army Military Free Fall Parachutist School, Fort Bragg, N.C., and Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz. This course instructs free fall parachuting procedures. The five-week course provides wind tunnel training, in-air instruction focusing on student stability, aerial maneuvers, air sense, parachute opening procedures and parachute canopy control.
U.S. Air Force Combat Diver School, Panama City, Fla. Trainees become combat divers, learning to use scuba and closed circuit diving equipment to covertly infiltrate denied areas. The six-week course provides training to depths of 130 feet, stressing development of maximum underwater mobility under various operating conditions.
Army pathfinders originated in 1943 out of need for accurate airdrops during airborne campaigns of World War II. These pathfinders preceded main assault forces into objective areas to provide weather information and visual guidance to inbound aircraft through the use of high-powered lights, flares and smoke pots.
When the Air Force became a separate service, Air Force pathfinders, later called combat control teams, were activated in 1953 to provide navigational aids and air traffic control for a growing Air Force. In the Vietnam War, combat controllers helped assure mission safety and expedited air traffic flow during countless airlifts. Combat controllers also flew as forward air guides in support of indigenous forces in Laos and Cambodia.
Combat controllers continue to be the "First There" when they are called upon to participate in international emergencies and humanitarian relief efforts.