Hulman Field, Ind. --
The 113th Air Support Operations Squadron (ASOS) has been deeply entrenched in their training since transitioning from a fighter squadron to a ground combat unit, and this won't ever change. ASOS Airmen have a peculiar Air Force occupation that places them deep in the fight, usually as the lone Airmen supporting Army maneuver units, directing and coordinating air strikes and intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance support. A majority of the skills required to become an effective Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) are developed at Army run schools and not unlike their roles in combat, these Airmen tend to stand out as the only Air Force personnel in site. The Airmen from the 113th ASOS have excelled in all of these unique schools, many of which are firsts for 181st.
"We have to stay focused on our training right now so we are sending our Airmen to as many courses as we can including Air Assault, Pathfinder, SFAUCC (Special Forces Advanced Urban Combat Course) and JTACQC (Joint Tactical Air Controller Qualification Course)," said MSgt, Ed Shulman, 113th ASOS TACP Operations NCO. "These courses develop the skills that ASOS Airmen need to become efficient, effective and lethal in combat."
The first 181st member to attend Air Assault School was SrA Zachary Eason, 113th ASOS, and while he wasn't the first Air Force member to attend, he was definitely the first member from Hulman Field to complete the course.
"Of the 127 who completed the 11-day school, only two of us were Airmen" the 26-year-old Eason explained. "The school was excellent training. We were taught to conduct sling load operations, repell from structures and helicopter and also to set up and control landing zones for helicopters."
The Air Assault School was held at Camp Atterbury's Warrior Training Center by a mobile training unit out of Ft. Benning, Ga.
"It was tough, but very useful training," Eason said. "I had a greater learning curve than some of my Army peers because they were more familiar with the equipment than I was so I had to play catch up at first. It didn't take long for me to catch up though and after a few days, you're not just the Air Force guy to them anymore and you're accepted as part of the group."
While jumping from helicopters and repelling from buildings are necessary skill for all TACPs, controlling air strikes and delivering weapons on target is the main focus of the 113th ASOS. The JTACQC provided that certification. MSgt John Mehringer and TSgt Damon Girton attended this 28-day school, which certifies them to coordinate air strikes.
"This school is a major building block for what we do and a mandatory part of our skill level progression," Mehringer explained. "Every TACP in the unit will have to complete this school to become a certified JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller). It's a tough school with a lot of classroom academics as well as practical exercise in the field ."
The two 181st Airmen began the school at Nellis AFB, Las Vegas, Nev. and for their field exercises moved to Ft. Drum, N.Y. The JTACQC School is another key step for these Airmen who are working diligently to get the ASOS fully mission capable.
"This school teaches us not only about joint planning and doctrine but also about the complete aircraft and weapons capabilities of US and coalition Air Forces," said Girton. "We were put through detailed simulations that taught us how to seemlessly integrate completely into Army field operations. It was a challenging but rewarding course."
SSgt Anthony Hobson, 113th ASOS, was afforded the opportunity to attend US Army Pathfinder School. Pathfinder School, also offered at Camp Atterbury's Warrior Training Center through the mobile training command from Ft. Benning, Ga., prepared Hobson for a unique war fighting situation.
"This course taught troops how to operate behind enemy lines, recon the area and set up secure landing zones for helicopters, as well as drop zones to bring in troops and supplies," the 26-year-old Hobson said. "This was an intense course that focused on the mental aspects of our jobs just as much as the physical."
Hobson explained that Pathfinder School had a 33 percent failure rate and spending eight to 12 hours in a classroom a day was still not enough time to soak up all the information.
"Taking what was learned in the classroom and translating it into a live operation was the goal," he said. "Everyone was evaluated as the team leader and the assistant team leader so the course was extremely stressful since your grade depended on the performance of the entire team. It also increases our capabilities as a JTAC, to go out with an Army unit and control complex air movement operations as well as by acting as a limited air traffic controller."
All ASOS members are focused on becoming qualified in every aspect of their mission and full time operational status is still yet to come, but as they continue to train the operational status improves. The unit is schedule to be at initial operational capability in the spring of 2010. These schools, while completely different from anything 181st members have attended in the past, will play right into their duties as TACPs.
"I think what some people don't understand is the mental aspect of our jobs," Hobson said. "While the physical aspect plays into it, mentally we have to be very prepared to perform in a variety of challenging and unforgiving circumstances."
As the transition continues for the 113th ASOS, Airmen will constantly be sent around the country, working with their Army counterparts to train. It's a non-stop training regiment and Airmen who attend specialty schools now will return to the 181st to help their peers prepare for the next training opportunity.
"We can bring this information back here to help others prepare and know what to expect for their upcoming school," Mehringer explained. "All of these schools are getting us one-step closer to becoming operational. It's important for all of us to complete this training and that's exactly what we're doing. And our guys are doing a great job in every school they attend."
"The bottom line is that we need to train our Airmen to be ready to execute their missions regardless of the tactical situations they may be forced to do it in." said Lt. Col. Patrick Renwick, 113th ASOS commander. "There's no room in this job for mistakes so we don't just train until we get it right, we train until we can't get it wrong."