|10-12-2004, 06:27 PM||#1 (permalink)|
U.S. Marine ( FAST )
Join Date: Sep 2004
Combat controllers call in big guns for troops in Afghanistan
by Staff Sgt. Jennifer Lindsey
455th Expeditionary Operations Group Public Affairs
10/12/2004 - BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (AFPN) -- They are respectfully referred to as “the guys with the beards,” by their fellow Airmen here. It is distinction that few American servicemembers in Afghanistan can claim.
Dressed in unmarked desert camouflage uniforms, these distinctive Airmen convoy across the Afghan plains, trek through mountain passes and search through buildings and vehicles along with the U.S. and coalition units where they are assigned. Their job is to call in for backup, often in the heat of battle. Combat controllers are the “go-to” people for aerial assaults against enemy forces to protect their fellow Airmen, Soldiers, Navy Seals and Marines as they work to accomplish their missions.
Year-round, special tactics squadron combat controllers, also called CCTs, become members of coalition teams and go wherever the mission requires. Besides calling in close-air support, they also serve as aerial support specialists who survey landing and drop zones and advise ground commanders on tactical plans. To get the job done right here, controllers operating downrange in small select teams must work with Afghan village leaders, and that is where the beards are important. In Afghan culture, men worthy of respect wear full beards. It is also a sign of respect to the local people and their ways.
“When we go out with special operations forces units, we deal with the locals on a daily basis,” said CCT Tech. Sgt. Jarrett, whose last name is omitted for security reasons. “We embed with ground troops who help local villages improve the infrastructure by building roads, schools and hospitals, and installing wells and electrical generators. Those same troops are trained and equipped to fight the bad guys -- factions fighting to prevent democracy and religious moderation and cultural modernization. In order to get from Point A to Point B, we sometime have to get around mines and overcome ambushes along the way. To provide medical treatment to villagers in an area, we might have to fight on the way there.”
There is little glory or glamour in the job, and it is a profession to which few are called and can endure, said CCT Staff Sgt. Chris. There are only about 400 U.S. Airmen worldwide who have passed the two years of technical and on-the-job training. They endure the physical demands of keeping up with four branches of service as they accomplish one mission after another to keep up with the high operations tempo operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom currently demand. Combat controllers, including Sergeant Chris, are experienced and qualified in static line and high altitude/low opening parachuting, air traffic control, scuba diving (to keep up with Navy Seals when the need arises), small-unit tactics and close-air support.
“We carry everything we need on us to sustain us in battle,” the noncommissioned officer said. “Out in the field, the mountains or villages of Afghanistan, we’re manning radios, maintaining situational awareness, calling in for fixed and rotary aerial support, firing our weapon and providing ground force defense -- all the time communicating with the [air support operations center] giving them situational reports.”
Although combat controllers may serve as one person to a sister service team, they are far from alone in their mission. CCTs carry with them a wealth of knowledge and support from their unit. At Bagram, special tactics squadron members back up each controller with a team of support specialists, radio maintainers, life support technicians, intelligence officers, vehicle maintainers and other technical gurus.
One critical role is that of the intelligence officer, who feeds information, such as signals intelligence or emerging enemy tactics, to the combat controllers, which helps “fill in the gaps” on situations the ground troops may encounter.
“And he provides the latest football scores,” quipped CCT Staff Sgt. Jason.
In a world where AK-47 automatic rifle fire may come out of seemingly nowhere, such jokes may seem odd, but controllers and ground troops can be out on assignment, traveling weeks at a time in extremely remote areas of the country. Such small “other world” details can mean a lot when trying to keep a sense of reality that there is a modern, bustling world beyond the 245,000 square-miles of rocky, dusty terrain that make up Afghanistan.
“We’re not on the edge of the world, but we can see it from there,” Sergeant Jarrett said.
It is frustrating trying to build up villages in a country where people are so impoverished that they do not understand the need for paved roads. Insurgents fight to the death to maintain their power over the people; however, job satisfaction for combat controllers here is at its highest, Sergeant Jarrett said.
“Being the go-to guy is extremely rewarding,” he said.
“People in the United States try to understand what it is to be beaten or to have family members killed by oppressors, but we’ve never faced the things people here have faced,” Sergeant Jarrett said. “Afghans have had to leave their home and move to Pakistan to escape Taliban and al-Qaida forces.”
“I know a man who was beaten severely and burned by Soviet forces, then his wife was abused, and only a few years later, his son was killed by the Taliban,” Sergeant Jason said.
It is such acts of terror that inspire Sergeant Chris to continue going out into the field.
“I’m here so we can practice our rights to do and say what we believe in, and have the freedom we know and love,” he said. “When I’m out there and I see a little girl in a village, I think of my beautiful wife and daughters, and it reminds me of why I’m doing this.”
|afghanistan, big, call, combat, controllers, guns, troops|
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