SAVANNAH, Ga. --
"Anyone can use a radio, but having guys who are able to set-up and fix radios of all different frequencies and then operate them in austere conditions is just one of the many things we do best,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Scariano, commander of the 165th Air Support Operations Squadron.
“If you put my guys out on Tybee Island after a major hurricane pummels through the area, they would be right at home,” Scariano said.
During natural disasters, such as hurricanes or in some cases even ice storms, tactical air control party and joint terminal attack controllers can provide command and control capabilities that allow them to establish long-haul radio communications with first responders from hard-to-reach areas so the proper resources and medical care can be delivered as quickly as possible.
“We bridge the gap between military and civilian law enforcement communications,” Scariano said. “For example, if we have civilian first responders trying to communicate with a National Guard Blackhawk helicopter to coordinate a medical evacuation, we can band their frequencies with ours to create an effective and functional communication line for everyone involved.”
Scariano, a former F-16 pilot, has over 8 years of experience leading special warfare units like the 165th ASOS and said that the unique skills and abilities of these Airmen are some of the most demanding, and in his opinion, one of the most impactful in the entire U.S. military.
The communication equipment located inside of their Humvees, a Battlefield Airman System of Integrated Communications (BASIC), is capable of operating on multiple frequencies including HF, UHF, VHF, FM and SATCOM radios all while being protected from harsh conditions in an armored vehicle.
“Not only do we have the BASIC suite that provides audio communication capabilities but in some cases we can stream visual data from air-to-ground which involves pilots sending visual imagery to TACPs on the ground to better assist with search and rescue efforts” said Senior Master Sgt. Eric Rideaux, the superintendent for the 165th ASOS.
Special Warfare Airmen, which includes TACPs and JTACs, must complete over two years of physically and mentally demanding training to learn and master all aspects of their career field prior to being sent back to their units to undergo extensive on-the-job training and finally sent into a real-world scenario with a certified and experienced inspector for their final “check-ride.”
Scariano explained that the attributes of such highly-trained Airmen, along with the resources an ASOS has in the Air National Guard, make the 165th ASOS a very valuable asset for the state of Georgia to call on for natural disaster response.
When activated, 165th ASOS Airmen, even those who are junior enlisted, are placed in positions that carry a heavy amount of responsibility because they report to and advise joint force commanders as the subject-matter experts of all things TACP and JTAC, Scariano said.
“The margin of error in this career field is razor thin," said Scariano, “There is no room for error and that is why we hold these Airmen to such a high-level of professionalism and set such high expectations.”
“On the domestic operations side of our mission, our skill sets can be applied in a similar ways as downrange, but different at the same time,” Scariano said, “Regardless, our focus is always saving lives and protecting lives and assets on the battlefield or here at home.”
If activated to support national disaster relief efforts, these Airmen would be relied upon to provide functioning communication lines for first responders, but also assist with search and rescue operations, preservation of property, protection of life, public safety, and maintenance of vital public services.
The 165th ASOS has previously played a vital role in search and rescue efforts including the response efforts following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and after the severe ice storms in northern and eastern Georgia in February of 2014.
The unit continues to participate in annual training exercises to ensure their Airmen remain masters of their trade. This enforces a continued education and job experience so they are always ready to provide top-tier support here at home and overseas.
Despite the Airmen of the 165th ASOS often working behind-the-scenes, due to the high demand for their support overseas, they are well-equipped and ready to serve in domestic operations.
Their skill-set might be the much needed “secret weapon” when it comes to effectively establishing functional communication lines for our first responders at home in response to a natural disaster.