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PA ANG special warfare Airmen practice combat skills alongside Army counterparts

U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Control Party Specialists with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron anticipate the final pass of an A-10 after they called in the aircraft to do a simulated air strike Aug. 13, 2019.

U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Control Party Specialists with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron anticipate the final pass of an A-10 after they called in the aircraft to do a simulated air strike Aug. 13, 2019, as part of a training exercise at Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise, Idaho. The special warfare Airmen spent three weeks training on air-to-ground combat tactics alongside the Pennsylvania Army National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

Tactical Air Control Party Specialists with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron wait for the A-10 air support they called in to drop simulated munitions on a target Aug. 13, 2019.

Tactical Air Control Party Specialists with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron wait for the A-10 air support they called in to drop simulated munitions on a target Aug. 13, 2019. The Pennsylvania Air National Guardsmen traveled to Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise this summer to practice their ground combat skills, working alongside their Army counterparts at the 56th Stryker Brigade, PA Army National Guard, and the Idaho Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

Tactical Air Control Party Specialists with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron go over the nine information points Aug. 13, 2019.

Tactical Air Control Party Specialists with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron go over the nine information points Aug. 13, 2019, that they must communicate with their air support pilots to ensure a target is confirmed and hit accurately. The Pennsylvania Air National Guardsmen traveled to Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise this summer to practice their ground combat skills, working alongside their Army counterparts at the 56th Stryker Brigade, PA Army National Guard, and pilots with the Idaho Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

Tactical Air Control Party Specialists with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron keep their eyes on the target as they wait for the A-10 air support they called in to drop simulated munitions on a target Aug. 13, 2019.

Tactical Air Control Party Specialists with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron keep their eyes on the target as they wait for the A-10 air support they called in to drop simulated munitions on a target Aug. 13, 2019. The Pennsylvania Air National Guardsmen traveled to Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise this summer to practice their ground combat skills, working alongside their Army counterparts at the 56th Stryker Brigade, PA Army National Guard, and the Idaho Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

Tactical Air Control Party Specialists with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron practice changing positions as they communicate with their A-10 air support to drop simulated munitions on a target Aug. 13, 2019.

Tactical Air Control Party Specialists with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron practice changing positions as they communicate with their A-10 air support to drop simulated munitions on a target Aug. 13, 2019. The Pennsylvania Air National Guardsmen traveled to the Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise, Idaho, this summer to hone their ground combat skills, working alongside their Army counterparts at the 56th Stryker Brigade, PA Army National Guard, and the Idaho Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

From left to right, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel Nicholson, Tech. Sgt. Devon Kuny and Senior Airman Zachery Madera, all Tactical Air Control Party Specialists with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, assess the environment and prepare an A-10 air strike plan during a combat training exercise with Idaho National Guard A-10s Aug. 13, 2019.

From left to right, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel Nicholson, Tech. Sgt. Devon Kuny and Senior Airman Zachery Madera, all Tactical Air Control Party Specialists with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, assess the environment and prepare an A-10 air strike plan during a combat training exercise with Idaho National Guard A-10s Aug. 13, 2019. The special warfare Airmen spent three weeks in the field at Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise, Idaho, honing their communications and navigation skills and integrating with their Army counterparts. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

An A-10 aircraft assigned to the Idaho Air National Guard arrives on time and on target Aug. 13, 2019.

An A-10 aircraft assigned to the Idaho Air National Guard arrives on time and on target Aug. 13, 2019, at Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise, Idaho. The aircraft was called in to do a simulated air strike as part of a training exercise by 148th Air Support Operations Squadron Tactical Air Control Party Specialists in the field there. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

From left to right, Senior Airman Ian Whelan, Tech. Sgt. Daniel Nicholson, and Tech. Sgt. Devon Kuny, Joint Terminal Attack Controllers with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron, communicate with their A-10 air support pilot Aug. 13, 2019.

From left to right, Senior Airman Ian Whelan, Tech. Sgt. Daniel Nicholson, and Tech. Sgt. Devon Kuny, Joint Terminal Attack Controllers with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron, communicate with their A-10 air support pilot Aug. 13, 2019, during a combat training exercise at the Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise, Idaho. The special warfare Airmen spent three weeks in the field honing their skills and working with their Army counterparts in a realistic training environment. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

U.S. Army Stryker vehicles from the 56th Stryker Brigade, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, head to their outpost.

U.S. Army Stryker vehicles from the 56th Stryker Brigade, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, head to their outpost Aug. 12, 2019, during a ground combat training exercise at the Orchard Combat Training Facility near Boise, Idaho. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

A mortar round fired by the 56th Stryker Brigade, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, hits its target.
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A mortar round fired by the 56th Stryker Brigade, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, hits its target Aug. 12, 2019, during a ground combat exercise at the Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise, Idaho. The brigade worked alongside the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron for three weeks to hone ground combat skills in a realistic training environment. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

A Stryker vehicle with the 56th Stryker Brigade, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, heads to a remote location.
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A Stryker vehicle with the 56th Stryker Brigade, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, heads to a remote location Aug. 12, 2019, at the Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise, Idaho. The brigade worked alongside the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron for three weeks to hone ground combat skills in a realistic training environment. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

From left to right, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ian Whelan, Senior Airman Zeljko Raic and Tech. Sgt. Daniel Nicholson, Tactical Air Control Party Specialists with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron, communicate with their A-10 air support pilot.
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From left to right, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ian Whelan, Senior Airman Zeljko Raic and Tech. Sgt. Daniel Nicholson, Tactical Air Control Party Specialists with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron, communicate with their A-10 air support pilot Aug. 12, 2019, during a combat training exercise at the Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise, Idaho. The special warfare Airmen spent three weeks in the field honing their skills and working with their Air Force air support and Army counterparts in a realistic training environment. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Devon Kuny, a Joint Terminal Attack Controller with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron, uses a laser range finder to help determine distance while coordinating an air strike.
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U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Devon Kuny, a Joint Terminal Attack Controller with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron, uses a laser range finder to help determine distance while coordinating an air strike Aug. 12, 2019, as part of a combat training exercise at Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise, Idaho. Kuny and other Tactical Air Control Party Specialists spent three weeks in the field honing their skills with calling in air strikes and working with their Army counterparts in a realistic training environment. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

Senior Airman Zeljko Raic, a Tactical Air Control Party Specialist with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron, checks his coordinates.
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Senior Airman Zeljko Raic, a Tactical Air Control Party Specialist with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron, checks his coordinates Aug. 12, 2019, during a combat training exercise at the Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise, Idaho. Raic and other Joint Terminal Attack Controllers spent three weeks in the field honing their skills with calling in air strikes and working with their Army counterparts in a realistic training environment. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

U.S. Army Specialist Matthew Severo (left) and Private 1st Class Rider Mead load 120-millimeter mortar rounds into their Stryker vehicle.
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U.S. Army Specialist Matthew Severo (left) and Private 1st Class Rider Mead load 120-milimeter mortar rounds into their Stryker vehicle Aug. 12, 2019, during a ground combat training exercise at the Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise, Idaho. The Soldiers, from the 56th Stryker Brigade, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, spent three weeks in the field honing their skills in a realistic training environment. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

Private First Class Lesandra Andino, a combat medic with the 56th Stryker Brigade, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, heads to a remote location.
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Private First Class Lesandra Andino, a combat medic with the 56th Stryker Brigade, Pennsylvania Army National Guard, heads to a remote location Aug. 12, 2019, at the Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise, Idaho. The brigade worked alongside the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron for three weeks to hone ground combat skills in a realistic training environment. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

Senior Airman Ian Samodio uses a monocular to positively identify a target.
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Senior Airman Ian Samodio uses a monocular to positively identify a target Aug. 12, 2019, during combat training at Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise, Idaho. Samodio and other Joint Terminal Attack Controllers and Tactical Air Control Party Specialists special warfare Airmen from the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron spent three weeks training on air-to-ground combat tactics alongside the Pennsylvania Army National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

Tactical Air Control Party Specialists from the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron load up their gear and vehicle.
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Tactical Air Control Party Specialists from the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron load up their gear and vehicle early Aug. 12, 2019, as they prepare to head into the remote training grounds at the Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise, Idaho. The special warfare Airmen spent three weeks training on air-to-ground combat tactics alongside the Pennsylvania Army National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Susan Penning/Released)

BOISE, Idaho --

Special warfare Airmen with the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, headed west this summer to Idaho’s Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise to immerse with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s 56th Stryker Brigade for some vital air-to-ground combat training. 

The vast, rugged terrain and desert-like climate provided a realistic backdrop for what these Tactical Air Control Party Specialists will likely encounter in a war theater. 

Throughout their three weeks in Idaho, the 148th ASOS TACPS – some of whom have deployed several times and others who are preparing to deploy – worked to hone their battlefield skills in navigation, communication and Army integration. 

When deployed, these Air Force warfighters embed with units – primarily from the Army – on the frontlines, with the incredible responsibility of calling in air strikes on precise targets at the right moments. 

Highly trained and conditioned, these Airmen go through rigorous physical, mental and technical training to ensure they’re prepared for demanding conditions and to provide their team with the firepower needed for mission success.

Coordinating and delivering that firepower is a complex process requiring communication from the top down. 

Working in the career field at the brigade level, 1st Lt. Tyler Trocano, 148th ASOS Air Liaison Officer, served as an enlisted TACP before commissioning. 

“I work closely with brigade staff to integrate our air piece into the ground plan. We work out the details with fire cell, operations and intelligence teams,” Trocano said.

“I’ll be talking to fire support, primarily artillery and mortar fire, coordinating to make sure they can complete their missions and we can complete ours. We’ll also coordinate with the Air Support Operations Center to help figure out where air support is coming from and where it’s going,” he added. 

When the time comes for tactical delivery, it’s a high adrenaline – and high stakes – environment that forces TACPS to fall back on their training. 

These Airmen begin their initial training with three blocks of instruction, mainly focused on physical and mental conditioning, land navigation, small unit tactics and field training. 

“I was dropped off in the middle of the Florida jungle. I had a start and end point, a map and compass. Then I had a designated amount of time to find my way. I grew up outside the city, so being left in the middle of the woods forced me to develop this ‘never quit’ mentality. You resort to your training and block out all the noise in your head,” Trocano said.

“We would wake up at 0400 and work out for one to four hours, whatever our instructor thought we needed that day,” added Senior Airman Ian Samodio, a Joint Terminal Attack Controller with the 148th ASOS. TACPS earn the title of JTAC after completing additional training that allows them to independently communicate with and control aircraft. 

“Bear crawls, 12-mile rucks … sometimes I would think, ‘If I stop now, the pain will be over.’ The small goals I set for myself, like, ‘Just go one more mile, one more hour,’ got me through it. This makes you grow up fast. You have to learn to take care of yourself, to endure the suck,” Samodio said.

After field training, the Airmen begin an in-depth study of all the airframes, communications and weapons capabilities they’ll have available to them in a combat situation. 

For example, in Idaho the 148th ASOS team worked with A-10 aircraft from the 124th Fighter Wing, an ANG unit stationed at Gowen Field ANG Base, Boise. The A-10 Thunderbolt II has been historically known for its maneuverability at low air speeds and altitude, and boasts a highly accurate weapons-delivery platform. This aircraft can loiter near battle areas for extended periods of time and operate under 1,000-foot ceilings with 1.5-mile visibility, making it a vital tool in the JTAC toolbox. 

Controlling aircraft, with lives and the outcome of battles potentially – and perhaps even singularly – placed in their hands, it’s clear these Airmen shoulder immense responsibility.

“I wanted to join this career field because it would allow me to control aircraft, to have a larger responsibility,” said Senior Airman Ian Whelan, a 23-year old JTAC with the 148th ASOS. 

“When you’re the fire’s lifeline, there’s no room for failing your comrades. In that first firefight, when adrenaline is rushing and the nerves grip you, you concentrate on that first drop. You double check your work, and you always fall back on your training. You work to be as accurate as possible,” said JTAC Tech. Sgt. Devon Kuny, Battalion Air Liaison with the 148th ASOS.

Understanding what’s on the line when they deploy makes JTACs serious about taking full advantage when they get field training opportunities. 

Tech. Sgt. Daniel Nicholson, 148th ASOS chief of weapons and tactics, has been a JTAC with the unit for nearly 13 years. He worked closely with his team in Idaho to help them hone their skillset. 

“Our training preps us for what we can expect,” he said. “In that moment when rounds are coming at you, your focus narrows to getting that aircraft on station, returning the fire, and dropping the bombs so we can all go home.” 

Nicholson recalls a time while deployed when his team took enemy fire. 

“It was an air assault at night. We took fire from rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. We lost one man and eight others were wounded. It’s hard to go back and replay that moment because I’m always thinking, ‘What could we have done differently?’” 

Nicholson glanced over his shoulders at his teammates.

“I want to train them even better than I was trained. I want to help them react quicker,” he said. “I want them to be prepared for anything, because with what we do, seconds matter.”

Several members of the 148th ASOS are preparing to deploy soon.

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