Hulman Field, Ind. --
On Nov. 4-11, 2012, members of the 181st Intelligence Wing, 113th Air Support Operations Squadron Tactical Air Control Party departed for Mount Mitchell State Park in Burnsville, N.C. to conduct medium altitude mountain training. Operation Blue Ridge is a field exercise to establish proper survival and small unit tactics, techniques, and procedures in austere environments above 6,000 feet mean seal level and rugged terrain. This type of training is an annual requirement for TACPs.
Mount Mitchell, at 6,684 feet, is the highest mountain in the eastern United States. The elevation afforded the 113th ASOS the ability to train in very rugged terrain and experience woodland and alpine style back country training. At night the temperatures dropped to 24 degrees, and during the day reached "highs" of 45 degrees. Due to Hurricane Sandy, Mount Mitchell received approximately 20 inches of fresh snow prior to the start of the operation. Though most of the snow melted during the days, the north sides of the slopes were still covered in snow and ice, which made movement throughout the mountains very dangerous, and kept everyone alert. During the four day event, it snowed periodically to further provide austere training conditions.
The training, led by Master Sgt. Scott McPhee and Staff Sgt. Zach Eason, was to refresh core TACP field and survival skills learned in the Air Force's SV-80 Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape Course. In addition to the 113th ASOS TACP, three members of the 137th Intelligence Squadron were able to attend the training to get a better perspective of how TACPs survive and fight on the ground. Including the intelligence specialists will increase and foster better understanding on why and how they (Intel) can best support the TACP while in the field. The 137th members that accompanied the TACPs were Maj. Rick, Tech Sgt. Dustin, and Tech. Sgt Brandon. In addition to increased knowledge, the operation helped foster stronger bonds between the two 181st Intelligence Wing squadrons.
SV-80, is a mandatory course for all TACPs . The training afforded the TACPs an opportunity to replenish their survival and evasion skills in the event they are ever isolated in austere environments. Due to the nature of their job, TACPs are at a very high risk of isolation. Leading the survival training portion was SERE Specialist Staff Sgt. Ryan Garrett from the 9th OSS out of Beale AFB, Calif. As a SERE Instructor, he is well-versed in the proper techniques to "Survive and Return with Honor." Staff Sgt. Garrett was able to provide numerous training events to ensure all members were able to get the highest level of training, to include: fire building, water and food procurement, bivouac selection, travelling techniques, survival in wet conditions/snow conditions, field improvisation, shelter (natural and man-made), and isolated personnel survival techniques.
The training not only included survival refresher for the TACPs, but it was a great opportunity to hone their skills in field training that is also unique to the career-field. As TACPs, they are usually only a one or two-man team aligned with an Army Company or Battalion. Their job is to advise, assist, and control close air support for their aligned Army Ground Force Commander in some of the most extremist circumstances during combat operations. Some of these skills are highly perishable, so this was a great environment for the TACP to refresh them. Some of the training the TACPs were able to accomplish included: land navigation, map and compass skills, field medicine, acclimatization, rappelling, rock-climbing, high angle ascension, mountaineering, patrol techniques, site security, care and use of equipment, patrol base setup, and personnel/equipment recovery.
181st IW Members that attended the training are: Master Sgt. Scott McPhee, Major Rick, Staff Sgt. Zach Eason, Staff Sgt. Ryan Garrett, Tech. Sgt. Dustin, Tech. Sgt. Brandon, Tech. Sgt. Russell Black, Staff Sgt. Garrett Ames, Staff Sgt. James Moore, Staff Sgt. Karl Ackerman, Senior Airman Matthew Mook, Senior Airman Raymond Felix, Senior Airman Joseph Bowlin, and Airman 1st Class Jacob Buker.
(In accordance with current Air Force guidance, the last name of some members have been omitted in this article due to operational security)