Air support is crucial vein in ground force's lifeline

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Carlos Diaz
  • U.S. Central Command Air Forces Public Affairs
Joint terminal attack controllers direct the action of combat aircraft to provide close-air support missions for U.S. ground forces in Iraq.

Close-air support missions require highly-detailed communication channels and a well-coordinated process. Those communication channels and coordination processes are orchestrated at the joint operations center in Camp Victory, Iraq.

The JOC is a joint force commander's headquarters that is jointly manned for the planning, monitoring and execution of the commander's decisions.

Within the JOC, the Air Force operates part of its mission in the air support operations center. The ASOC handles close-air support missions for the entire Iraqi airspace.

The ASOC processes and coordinates requests for immediate air support and coordinates air missions requiring integration with other support units and ground forces.

"Minute by minute, we make sure aircraft are supporting the Army's priorities," said Capt. Joby Bennett, ASOC air liaison and fighter duty officer.

Multi-National Corps-Iraq determines the priorities for close-air support missions. Those priorities, which are meant to keep Army ground units safe, get elevated when an immediate request is received stating that troops are in contact with enemy targets.

"Things can change in an instant," Captain Bennett said. "Sometimes, missions have to be shifted, and you have to be able to stay ahead of the game with the constant changes."

There are some key factors that can determine the mission's priority. These factors include the amount of fuel the aircraft has before it returns to base and the proximity of the targeted mission area, explained Staff Sgt. Pete Wartena, a JTAC fighter duty technician.

Sergeant Wartena receives air tasking orders that determine the aircraft flying for that specific day. An ATO is a method to task and disseminate to components, subordinate units and command and control agencies projected sorties, capabilities and forces to targets and specific missions.

"On any given day, we can get more than 200 air support requests," he said. 

With that type of high ops tempo, attention-to-detail is imperative.

"I have to constantly track aircraft and know exactly where they are at any given time," Sergeant Wartena said.

His experience from a previous deployment to Afghanistan has helped him provide better service at the JOC level.

The JOC allows some servicemembers a chance to coordinate plans at the highest level of combat, command and control.

"The best part of this job is the interaction with ground units," said Army Capt. Glen Renfree, battle captain for force field artillery.

In his capacity, Captain Renfree tracks indirect fire activity across the country.

"We track trends and conduct briefings to the highest levels," Captain Renfree said. "We're the behind-the-scenes team that uses a major database to collect historical data that allows us to accurately analyze our information. We provide the senior leadership with a complete picture of the indirect fire threat in the area."

Every day, air power is demonstrated in the skies above the area of responsibility. U.S. and coalition aircraft eliminate threats with pinpoint accuracy and deter hostile activities by a show of force.

According to Lt. Col. Roderick Dorsey, the 712th ASOC commander, a close-air support mission can be executed in well under 10 minutes.

"We're able to respond quickly because we have air support flying all of the time," Colonel Dorsey said. "However, that time frame can never be short enough for them."

Regardless of the time it takes for a mission to eliminate a threat, JTACs and ground forces know it is an integral warfighting asset.

"At the end of the day, we help the troops-in-contact with enemy forces get the support they need to accomplish their mission," Captain Bennett said. 

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