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Thursday, April 18, 2013

AFSOC Special Tactics: TACP, CCT, PJ and SOWT


As my “Military Insignia 3D” project continues to expand and develop, I am getting a fair amount of feedback and suggestions, which help me tremendously along the way. Quite often such two-way communications determine what the next phase of the project would be. This time was no different. An e-mail from an active duty operator pointed out a significant and inexcusable gap in my lineup.  We are talking about U.S. Air Force Special Operations as a whole, and its Special Tactics branch in particular. As it turns out, I am not the only one guilty of overlooking what these amazing guys are about. While SEALs and Army Special Forces get all the ink and glory in the public eye, many are not even aware of the Air Force Special Operations existence. Well, I guess it is time to change it, at least in my books. And I would like to begin with the AFSOC Special Tactics guys, who are always there on the ground in the thick of things, along with SEALs and Army SF. Let’s look at TACPs, CCTs, PJs and SOWT operators.



Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) was established 10 Feb 1983 as Twenty-Third Air Force, with headquarters at Hurlburt Field, Florida. AFSOC is a United States Air Force (USAF) major command and is the elite Special Forces component of the Air Force (AFSOF) to the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), a unified command located at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. AFSOC provides AF Special Operations Forces (SOF) for worldwide deployment and assignment to regional unified commands.
In December 1992, AFSOC special tactics and intelligence personnel supported Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. In late 1994, AFSOC units spearheaded Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti, and in 1995 Operation Deliberate Force in the Balkans. By the end of September 2001, AFSOC deployed forces to southwest Asia for Operation Enduring Freedom to help destroy the al Qaeda terrorist organization and remove the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. AFSOC airpower delivered special tactics forces to the battle ground and they in turn focused U.S. airpower and allowed Afghanistan's Northern Alliance ground forces to dispatch the Taliban and al Qaeda from Afghanistan. AFSOC personnel also deployed to the Philippines to help aid that country's efforts against terrorism. In March 2003, AFSOC again deployed forces to southwest Asia this time in support of what would become Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The command's SOF are composed of highly trained, rapidly deployable Airmen who are equipped with specialized aircraft. These forces conduct global special operations missions ranging from precision application of firepower, to infiltration, aviation foreign internal defense, exfiltration, resupply and refueling of SOF operational elements. The command's Special Tactics Squadrons are led by Special Tactics Officers (STOs). Special Tactics Squadrons combine Combat Controllers, TACP, Special Operations Weather Technicians, Pararescuemen and combat rescue officers to form versatile SOF teams. AFSOC's unique capabilities include airborne radio and television broadcast for psychological operations, as well as combat aviation advisors to provide other governments military expertise for their internal development.
Special Tactics is the US Air Force special operations ground force. Similar in ability and employment to MARSOC, Army Special Forces and Navy SEALs, Air Force Special Tactics personnel are typically the first to enter combat and often find themselves deep behind enemy lines in demanding, austere conditions, usually with little or no support. Due to the rigors of the job, Special Tactics yearlong training is one of the most demanding in the military, with attrition rates near 80 to 90 percent. In an attempt to reduce the high attrition, Special Tactics is very selective when choosing their officers. Special Tactics Officers (STO) undergo a highly competitive process to gain entry into the Special Tactics career field, ensuring only the most promising and capable leaders are selected. STO leadership and role modeling during the difficult training reduces the attrition rate for enlisted trainees. As befits their special connection between SOF and the USAF, these airmen have specialized equipment such as C4 vests.
STO selection is a two-phase process. Beginning with Phase One, a board of veteran STOs reviews application packages consisting of letters of recommendation, fitness test scores, and narratives written by the applicants describing their career aspirations and reasons for applying. Based on Phase One performance, approximately 8 to 10 applicants are invited to the next phase. Phase Two is a weeklong battery of evaluations, ranging from physical fitness and leadership to emotional intelligence and personality indicators. At the end of Phase Two, typically 2–4 applicants are selected to begin the year-plus Special Tactics training pipeline.



The Tactical Air Control Party, commonly abbreviatedTACP, is a small team of personnel who provide airspace deconfliction and terminal control of Close Air Support at battle group level or below. It usually consists of an officer Forward Air Controller (FAC), a SNCO FAC and usually a pair of signallers/drivers. An Air Force Tactical Air Control Party, commonly abbreviated TACP, is usually a team of two or more Air Force TACP journeyman or craftsman (AFSC 1C4X1) aligned with a conventional or special operations combat maneuver unit to advise ground commanders on the best use of air power, establish and maintain command and control communications, and provide precision terminal attack guidance of fixed- and rotary-wing close air support aircraft, artillery, and naval gunfire. A TACP always includes at least one Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) qualified to control attack aircraft. It can also include an Air Liaison Officer, who works primarily in an advisor capacity.
Along with being aligned with all conventional combat units, TACP airmen are also attached to Special Forces, Navy SEALs, as well as Joint Special Operations Command units and multi-national Special Operations task forces, primarily as communication and aircraft coordination experts and precision airstrike controllers. In addition, TACP members can be assigned to AFSOC Special Tactics Squadrons to perform their traditional duties in support of the Special Tactics mission. Enlisted members are either known as JTACs or ROMADs. JTACs provide terminal attack control for attack aircraft and act in an advisory capacity for their aligned army unit. ROMADs (Now referred to by the Air Force as JTAC's in training) are communication experts who assist JTACs in the performance of their duties while working to attain JTAC status for themselves. ("Radio Operator, Maintainer, and Driver," a holdover acronym from the career field’s Vietnam era, when enlisted airmen served primarily as assistants to officer-only Forward Air Controllers, has been replaced in the TACP vernacular with the term "Recon, Observe, Mark & Destroy" in reflection of the modern role of the TACCS)
TACP members wear black berets with a distinctive red, blue, and green cloth flash and silver crest. Pilots serving as Air Liaison Officers are authorized to wear the black beret, flash, and rank while assigned to a TACP unit, but not at any other point in their career (many choose not to don the black beret out of respect for the enlisted TACP airmen who have undergone intense training to earn this distinctive uniform item). Air Liaison Officers can obtain JTAC status by attending a four-week joint terminal attack controller qualification course, but are not required to do so. Non-rated Air Liaison Officers, or "13 Limas," undergo the same intense training as their TACP airmen. They wear the black beret.


United States Air Force Combat Control Teams, singularCombat Controller, (CCT) (AFSC 1C2X1) are ground combat forces specialized in a traditional pathfinder role while having a heavy emphasis on simultaneous air traffic control, fire support and command, control, and communications in covert or austere environments. Assigned to Special Tactics Squadrons, Combat Controllers are an integral part of Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), the Air Force component of United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Combat Controllers are often assigned individually or as a team to Army Special Forces, Army Ranger, and Navy SEAL teams to provide expert air support coordination and communications capabilities. Many Combat Controllers qualify and maintain proficiency as joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) where they call in and direct air strikes, close air support and fire support during battle. Combat Control, like all U.S. special operations forces career fields (e.g., Army Rangers, Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, etc.), is male-only. Out of the five Air Force Crosses awarded since the Global War on Terror started in 2001 three have been awarded to Combat Controllers for extraordinary heroism in combat.
The term "Combat Control Team" comes from World War II where allied troop-carrier squadrons developed gliderborne teams called Combat Control Teams. A Combat Control Team consisted of one glider pilot and four enlisted technicians. They utilized a jeep and a trailer-mounted radio to pass critical information to aircraft. The first time they were used were during Operation Varsity where two teams with the 18th Airborne Corps infiltrated German lines and they established forward airfields where they supported resupply operations and provided airfield control.


Pararescuemen, also known as PJs (Pararescue Jumpers), are Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and Air Combat Command (ACC) operatives tasked with recovery and medical treatment of personnel in humanitarian and combat environments. These special operations units are also used to support NASA missions and have been used to recover astronauts after water landings. They are attached to other SOF teams from all branches to conduct other operations as appropriate. Of the 22 enlisted Air Force Cross recipients, 12 are Pararescuemen. They wear the maroon beret as a symbol of their elite status, and to symbolize the blood shed by past PJs, as well as the blood current PJs are willing to shed to save lives. Part of the little-known Air Force Special Tactics community and long an enlisted preserve, the Pararescue service began commissioning Combat Rescue Officers early in the 21st century.


Special Operations Weather Team (SOWT) (AFSC 1W0X2) specialists are tactical observer/forecasters with ground combat capabilities and fall under the 720th Special Tactics Group within the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). The mission of a Special Operations Weather Team Specialist is to deploy by the most feasible means available into combat and non-permissive environments to collect and interpret meteorological data and provide air and ground forces commanders with timely, accurate intelligence. They collect data, assist mission planning, generate accurate and mission-tailored target and route forecasts in support of global special operations, conduct special weather reconnaissance and train foreign national forces. SOWTs provide vital intelligence and deploy with joint air and ground forces in support of direct action, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance, special reconnaissance, austere airfield, and combat search and rescue.

As always, the above insignia are available on a limited number of selected quality products via my “Military Insignia” galleries atZazzle. You may simply follow the direct links in the article to navigate to the corresponding galleries
I will also make my insignia designs available free of charge to any military units and personnel, for any non-profit/non-commercial and charitable causes, benefiting troops and their families. In addition, I would make my designs available free of charge to any military branches, formations and units for any non-commercial internal duty-specific purposes, such as unit-related web design, training materials or presentations, as I did on many occasions in the past.

The above information provided in part by Wikipedia, U.S. Army Center of Military history, The Institute of Heraldry, Global Security, and the official websites of the corresponding units.
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