Red Cloud Airman stand tall in Unique Mission

By Master Sgt. Louis A. Arana-Barradas
Air Force Print News

CAMP RED CLOUD — Airmen are helping the 2nd Infantry Division test the counter fire systems it has aimed at the North Korean artillery it faces across the Demilitarized Zone.

About a third of the Warrior Division’s 14,000 soldiers, and a handful of airmen, took part in the recent weeklong external evaluation.

The "eval" is something the unit does quite often, said Capt. Steven Wollman, a division spokesman. But each one is a major test of its fire support elements, he said. Those include mortars and artillery, plus division and Air Force aviation assets.

These evals are like Air Force combat effectiveness training exercises, said Lt. Col. Eugene O’Nale, commander of the 604th Air Support Operations Squadron at the camp 15 miles north of Seoul. The airmen attached to Army units are tactical air control party members from his unit.

One unit taking part in the test is the 4th Squadron of the 7th Cavalry from Camp Garry Owen. It deployed 25 soldiers — and five airmen — to set up and run a tactical operations center. The site, in a dusty plowed field next to a busy highway, is not a pretty place.

A Bradley cavalry fighting vehicle welcomes visitors at the opening in the concertina wire surrounding the operations center. But it’s home for now, for the soldiers and airmen whose task it is to integrate and direct firepower and close air support.

The airmen coordinate close air support missions for the cavalry unit, said Army Capt. Will Boswell, the squadron’s fire support officer. The airmen, called "TACPs," also pass on any intelligence reported to them by close air support mission pilots. They also relay details of damage done to selected targets.

"Our Air Force guys are technically and tactically proficient," Boswell said. "They know their business. We couldn’t accomplish our mission without them."

The field conditions are nothing new for the airmen. They "live, eat, sleep, work and sweat" with soldiers. They’re as aware of the hundreds of North Korean artillery pieces that could rain high explosives, chemical or biological shells on their camp — just a bit more than three miles from the DMZ. Those guns can reach targets in Seoul.

The airmen are part of the cavalry unit’s fire support element, said Master Sgt. Jorge Collier, who wears the division’s Indian Head patch above his chevrons. He’s the Air Force’s only enlisted battalion liaison officer on the peninsula.The airmen advise the Army commander on close air support, help plan it and then control it. To provide close air support direction, the airmen are normally the closest troops to the fight. That earns the squadron’s four airmen the respect of the soldiers they work with.

"We treat them just like any other soldier," said Private John Barrera, a Bradley driver.

Collier and his troops appreciate the acceptance. To ensure they remain an integral part of the unit, "we eat with them, smell like them — do everything with them. That’s good business."

A 17-year tank operator, Sgt. 1st Class John Wick is the squadron’s tank master gunner. He was helping provide external security at the tactical operations center’s site. For most of his career, he’s worked with the Air Force "TACPs." As a tank commander, Wick said there was nothing better than seeing A-10s streaking in to help his unit.

"These are the guys who’ve got my back if I ever have to roll out to combat," he said. The airmen, he said, are a key reason the division is ready to meet any North Korean threat.

Soldiers and airmen work side-by-side to ensure the 2nd Infantry Division is ready to meet its mission. Air Force Staff Sgt. Phil Bell, a tactical air control troop (right), and Private John Barrera (center), a Bradley Fighting Vehicle driver, discuss the perimeter defense of their tactical operations center. Air Force Master Sgt. Jorge Collier, an enlisted battalion liaison officer (left), said working closely with soldiers in the field helps his team’s readiness. Photo by Master Sgt. Val Gempis