From CAS to Class ... of '15: JTAC joins Long Blue Line

  • Published
  • By Don Branum
  • Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Nearly 13,000 Air Force Academy applicants vied for about 1,150 slots in the incoming class, competing in academics, leadership and physical readiness to make the final cut and join the Long Blue Line on June 23.

For one member of the Class of 2015, you also can add one more obstacle: the Taliban.

Senior Airman Andrew Dane, a joint terminal attack controller with the 19th Air Support Operations Squadron at Fort Campbell, Ky., completed his application process while deployed to the 807th Expeditionary ASOS at Forward Operating Base Wilson, near Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.

The Traverse City, Mich., native joined the Air Force straight out of high school.

"I initially joined to go into pararescue," he said. "I wanted to help people out."

Airman Dane's family has a history of military service: his cousin is a major in the Army and a West Point graduate, his mother served in the Army, and his grandfather on his father's side served in the Royal Navy.

After spending 1½ years of the past two years deployed, Airman Dane decided he wanted to change direction: leading airstrikes from the cockpit of an A-10 Thunderbolt II, rather than calling in support from the ground. He said Maj. Peter Terrebonne, the 19th ASOS operations officer, approached him about applying for the Academy through the Leaders Encouraging Airmen Development program after getting word that the Academy was looking for enlisted applicants.

"He said, 'You're the first person I thought of. Are you interested?'" Airman Dane said. "I said, 'Heck, yeah.'"

With help from Major Terrebonne and the Academy Admissions office, Airman Dane navigated the application process from FOB Wilson. He conducted his interview with his admissions liaison officer via Internet video chat and received the endorsement of his commander, Lt. Col. Stephen Lloyd, who was back at Fort Campbell. Airmen who apply through LEAD receive endorsement from their unit commanders rather than a congressman or senator.

Colonel Lloyd said Airman Dane was an obvious choice to attend the Academy.

"He was the best senior airman I've had during my tenure as the 19th ASOS commander," Colonel Lloyd said. "He is the kind of big-picture leader and warrior the Air Force needs in any Air Force specialty."

Airman Dane was the lead JTAC during Operation Bakersfield in July of last year, Colonel Lloyd said. Airman Dane supported elements from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division and the Afghan army's 1st Kandak, 205th Corps, to kick the Taliban out of a strategic crossroads near Jelawur. In an Aug. 12 Fort Campbell Courier report, Army Staff Sgt. Benjamen Tivao said, "When we got out there on the first day, they hit us with everything they had ... it was non-stop."

During that five-day battle, Airman Dane executed seven "danger close" strafes -- attacks on enemy targets in close proximity to friendly forces -- with no injury to allied troops. In all, he conducted more than 450 close-air support missions during his deployment, including 42 troops-in-contact situations, and controlled more than 200 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance hours to help eliminate 150 roadside bombs and more than 100 weapons caches.

But the Taliban wasn't Airman Dane's only obstacle to acceptance at the Academy.

"I had to take the SAT while I was deployed," he said. "I never took the SAT in high school, because I had already enlisted. I had a week's notice, so I did as much studying as I could."

Patty Edmond, the deputy chief of admissions for the Academy Admissions office, said Airman Dane is one of only 10 enlisted Airmen to earn direct entry into the Class of 2015. He gives up a line number for staff sergeant in the process, and he'll have to say goodbye to his friends at Fort Campbell.

However, he said he looks forward to making new friends here, and he'll try to lend a helping hand to his classmates during Basic Cadet Training.

"You're stressed, period," he said, recalling his experience in Basic Military Training less than four years ago. "You wonder what you got yourself into, and you kind of freak out about the little things. Hopefully I'll be able to help everyone out as best I can just because I'll have the experience."

Colonel Lloyd noted that the lack of enemy fire will make the Academy "exponentially easier" than Airman Dane's last deployment.

"See it through to completion, and enjoy being a leader of Airmen," Colonel Lloyd said. "For country ... for the team."