Michael's Dispatches

JTAC: Joint Terminal Attack Controller

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17 August 2011

4-4Cav in Combat
Operation Flintlock

We made it off the helicopter landing zone with no fighting. The enemy was not afraid of us, but they must have been taken by surprise.

Two Air Force JTACs were along for the mission, as they nearly always are in deliberate attacks that might involve air power.  In short, the JTACs are skilled technicians who often see significant amounts of combat because many JTACs stay busy bouncing around from unit to unit, from one combat operation to the next.  And so rest assured, if the nightly news is reporting about a serious Army operation, JTACs probably were there.

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After landing by CH-47 at 0300, we moved to the compound we would occupy and operate from for the next two days.  The JTACs pored over the maps and into the radios.

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Several 4-4Cav Soldiers took machine guns and a sniper rifle to the mud roof, and soon the JTACs crawled up to control the air fight.  Despite having been at war here for almost ten years, we still have a shortage of simple ladders.  And so 4-4Cav isn’t wasting time with paperwork requests; they’re making ladders in the motorpool from parts of vehicles that were damaged or destroyed in combat.  The ladder for this roof was about two rungs short of optimal, and so over the next two days I was convinced someone was going to plummet to the ground and need MEDEVAC.  When troops get shot on the roofs, it can be a challenge to get them down and that is especially so during firefights.

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Over the next two days, three of our people would be shot on rooftops nearby.  Two were shot in the face, and one in the right side-SAPI plate in his body armor.  The first Soldier shot in the face has survived, while the second died on the roof, or shortly after he was lowered.  And so, though our people must occupy the rooftops, they are dangerous places.  In this sort of combat, if you can see the enemy, the enemy can see you.  If you can shoot the enemy, the enemy can shoot you, and there is no good in going out there unless you plan to see and shoot the enemy.  4-4Cav did not come bearing kisses and lollipops, and the JTACs were not there to deliver humanitarian aid.

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The troops unfolded a bright, orange VS-17 panel.  This would allow the aircraft to see us and avoid an accident.  Though the current pilots knew our locations, other helicopters and aircraft would come and go over the next two days, and so the JTACs had to keep updating the situation.

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Morning of the first day.  The enemy has not yet responded to the incursion.

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JTACs watching.

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The JTACs kept plotting whatever it is that JTACS plot, which probably revolved around likely enemy fighting positions, friendly troop dispositions, and civilians to avoid in the event of airstrikes.  Our people don’t wait for dramas to unfold to start figuring out the playing field.  They make detailed maps with TRPs (target reference points), dead space, and just about anything else you can think of in order to bring fast and accurate fire.

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