MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
Who can call in the most airstrikes without error, ruck march the fastest and accurately shoot simulated targets the quickest?
Thirteen joint terminal attack controllers (JTAC) from across the country traveled to Moody to compete in the 93d Air Ground Operations Wing’s first ever Draco Spear competition August 1-10 to find out.
“We’re pulling the best JTACs from each squadron and we’re pitting them against each other while they’re here,” said Capt. Mike Lambert, 18th Air Support Operations Group air liaison officer. “Draco Spear is important because the JTAC job is extremely stressful. We require a lot from our JTACs and this gives us a chance to see who’s training the hardest.”
JTACs advise and assist commanders of all services and control the use of Air Force assets and firepower to protect ground units from enemy artillery. The 14th, 15th, 19th and 20th Air Support Operations Squadrons sent their best JTACs to compete in teams and prove their squadron is the cream of the crop. Draco Spear is a revival of the Dragon Challenge, which incorporated JTACs from other services but stopped being held in the mid-2000s.
The top overall team took home a plaque and bragging rights, the top JTAC team for each individual event received a mug and a coin and the top overall JTAC took home a spear. More important than mementos, Airmen had the opportunity to learn from and compete against the best of the best in their career field.
“Everybody here is on the elite side for their squadron, so even if they don’t win they’re still a top tier JTAC in the community,” said Lambert. “I think overall it’s a good experience across the board. This event was designed to be fun and challenging and they’re going to get stressed during the events, but it’s not a bad stress, it’s a competitive stress.”
The stress began with a physical training competition where JTACs raced through a series of push-ups, lunges and sprints. After minimal recovery time, teams completed a ruck march while carrying 60 pounds of gear each and a five-gallon water jug between the two of them.
Competitors were only told the ruck would be less than six miles and had to choose whether to sprint or conserve energy which, Lambert said, stressed them both mentally and physically. The trials continued during a shooting challenge where the JTACs shot 100 rounds at targets from various stances and distances while doing buddy carries, low-crawls and sprints in between stations.
“The shooting challenge was my favorite,” said Staff Sgt. Austin Scalisi, 15th ASOS JTAC. “My partner and I finished first, so that was something big for us. At our unit we’ve been training pretty hard (and) doing a lot more shooting than usual, so it was a good chance to (see) what we’re doing at our unit is actually working out here.”
The JTACs also did a speed drill where they called in as many attacks as they could within a 10-minute window, medical evacuation training and controlled notional airstrikes in a small town.
“I think my favorite part about the exercise was the intense competition we had,” Lambert added. “Everybody thinks they’re the best (and) everybody wants to prove it. Everybody’s got a unique skillset, so it’s really cool to see how everybody matches up and then kind of steal a little bit of experience from them and put it in my pocket.”
The instructors and students alike shared information, techniques and tactics that JTACs from other squadrons may not be privy to.
“Some of (the competitors) support different types of units. So, if you can take something from what that guy is doing and integrate it within your own techniques it may make you that much faster and that much more lethal on the battlefield,” said Staff Sgt. David Brown, 15th ASOS JTAC. “Anytime you can challenge other guys in the career field, learn something from them; take that stuff back to your home unit and implement it (is beneficial). You end up helping teach somebody else and the entire career field comes up from that.”
At the end of the event, Col. Dane Crawford, 18th ASOG commander, congratulated all of the participants and presented the top JTACs with their awards. He commended the JTACs professionalism and perseverance throughout Draco Spear and added that their discipline during training at their squadrons is what got them the results they wanted during this competition.
Congratulations to this year’s winners!
Shooting challenge winners: 15th ASOS, JTACs Staff Sgt. Austin Scalisi and Staff Sgt. David Brown
Ruck march winners: 15th ASOS, Staff Sgt. Ross Ferguson JTAC and 1st Lt. Ryan Schoellkopf flight commander
Speed drill winners: 14th ASOS, JTACs Staff Sgt. Troy Charlesworth and Airman 1st Class Elijah Bejer-Barro
Top overall team: 15th ASOS, Staff Sgt. Ross Ferguson JTAC and 1st Lt. Ryan Schoellkopf flight commander
Top overall performer: 20th ASOS, air liaison officer 1st Lt. Andrew Janosick