By Col. Danielle Willis, vice commander, 93d Air Ground Operations Wing
/ Published May 06, 2019
MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Last September, I attended a ceremony to deactivate the 712th Air Support Operations Squadron at Fort Hood, Texas. On May 11, 2019 the 803d Operations Support Squadron will be officially activated in its place.
I had the honor of commanding the 712th ASOS “Shadow Warriors” from 2013-2015. During my tenure, I led the unit downrange to support the air war in Afghanistan. Along with the Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) embedded with the Army outside the wire, we were the lifeline between soldiers in battle and fighter and bomber aircraft bringing to bear the full force of U.S. airpower on an enemy. It is an important mission to protect those who protect our freedom, and I was honored to fill that role.
Witnessing the closing of a squadron—my squadron—was a bittersweet moment. As I mourned the passing of an era, I felt gratitude and pride for the Air Force’s progress and hope for the future of the newly designated Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) major weapon system.
The 712th ASOS’s mission has not gone away with its closing, just transferred to other units. In 2018 the Air Force issued a directive designating the Tactical Air Control Party as a major weapon system. Under this directive, all components of the TACP weapons system are aligned under a single squadron.
The TACP major weapon system is the critical link in command and control between the Army and the Air Force in combat. The weapons system is comprised of four distinct missions: Joint Terminal Attack Controller, Air Liaison Officer, Air Support Operations Center, and Combat Mission Support.
JTAC, the first of the four missions, is a qualification that both enlisted and officer personnel can earn to call in airstrikes on enemy forces in close proximity to friendly forces. It’s a highly specialized field that requires physical and mental strength, discipline and the ability to work under duress in extreme conditions. Often, the skill of the JTAC can mean the difference between life and death for ground forces under fire.
The second mission of the TACP weapons system is that of advisor. The Air Liaison Officer is the senior TACP member attached to a ground unit who functions as the primary advisor to the ground commander on the use of joint air, space, and cyber capabilities. ALOs are typically officers but can also be highly experienced non-commissioned officers. Most ALOs are qualified as JTACs and have combat experience. Army commanders at all echelons rely on their ALOs for sound advice and reach-back to the Air Force.
The third mission, the Air Support Operations Center, was the primary focus of my old squadron. The ASOC is the primary Air Force control agency to provide a link between soldiers on the ground, aircraft, and higher headquarters in direct support of joint force land component operations. In recent years, the ASOC has been imbedded in Army Division headquarters as part of a Joint Air Ground Integration Center, a function that allows the Army and Air Force to quickly integrate weapons effects from both services, multiplying our military capabilities during war.
Finally, Combat Mission Support provides communications, supply, vehicle maintenance, fleet management, heating and air conditioning, power production, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, space, electronic warfare, and cyber capabilities to the TACP weapons system. Unlike the TACP operators, CMS personnel do not spend their entire Air Force careers in an ASOS. They rotate in for three to five years and quickly pick up a mission that is often outside what they trained for in the Air Force. They learn traditional Army skills like convoy operations, foot marching, and land navigation to move with TACP operators and their aligned Army units. Especially as focus on Multi-Domain operations, CMS plays an increasingly important role in the Tactical Air Control Party weapons system.
The transformation from a community to a weapons system has required a new way of thinking and approaching the TACP mission sets. To support the TACP major weapon system and ensure the Air Force provides this no-fail capability to the Army, the 93d Air Ground Operations Wing stood up two new squadrons in place of the 712th ASOS and its sister squadron, the 682d ASOS. The 803d Operations Support Squadron, and its sister, the 818th, are the first of their kind for TACP.
For the last 25 years, the Air Force has asked ASOS commanders to conduct mission operations, deploy, train, support the Army, act as the senior Air Force officer on an Army post, and be responsible for all mission support functions. The new operations support squadrons activated last year will relieve the burden of support from ASOS commanders and allow them to focus on the TACP major weapon system missions.
The two officers chosen to lead the new units, Lt. Col. Eric “Pico” Sobecki and Lt. Col. Eric “Hip-Hop” Haeuptle are in a unique and exciting position. Rarely in an officer’s career is he or she given the responsibility and freedom to design a unit from the ground up. These gentlemen will lead with the power to create, innovate and redesign the concept of support to the TACP. Their efforts will be instrumental in realizing the vision of a fully mature human weapons system on par with aircraft like the A-10 Warthog, and even the F-35 Lighting II.
These changes to the TACP community will improve the ability of our Airmen to execute the mission, support the ground commander, and bring air, space and cyber power to the fight. I look forward to seeing how these new operations support squadrons support the TACP and Army Weather Support community, and I wish them luck as they execute the support mission.