FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq (AFPN) -- Situated in a dusty Army headquarters tent at this forward operating base south of Baghdad, a team of joint tactical air control party Airmen orchestrated the destruction of an explosives-laden roadway recently, stopping the flow of ordnance and weapons into Iraq's capital.
By calling in the air strike, which dropped 13,500 pounds of bombs, the team of Airmen also potentially saved the lives of coalition troops on the ground involved in the ongoing surge to clear out hostile insurgents from the area.
"This was a fairly important road," said Captain Kevin Carrigan, air liaison officer for the 15th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Squadron that supports the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division here. "The insurgents were using (the road) to bring explosives into Baghdad, but they lined it with [improvised explosive devices], making it impossible for troops to secure it."
Usually, joint terminal attack controllers, or JTACs, who are assigned to Army units, direct combat aircraft for close air support from the front lines, but during this current deployment, several of them were moved up to brigade headquarters to work directly with Army leaders.
Senior Airman Logan Abrams (right) observes as Tech. Sgt. Mike Cmelik talks to a B-1 Lancer pilot during a bombing mission taking place south of Baghdad on June 25.
(U.S. Air Force photo by
Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi)
"This is the first time we ever really worked at this level," said Captain Carrigan. "It's good because we have access to all kinds of information that we wouldn't have in the field. From this position, we can provide support to both the leaders and our JTACs downrange."
That connectivity proved valuable the night of the air strike, which began a few days earlier with Iraqis coming forward with information.
"This was a case where we had human intelligence about the road," said Capt. Carrigan. "The Army then went out and noticed inconsistencies within the road that were later confirmed with imagery taken from overhead."
With the collected information, a "target packet" was created with the request to call in an air strike. Target packets are used by senior leaders to determine whether a target and its recommended destruction are appropriate and in accordance with the law and rules of engagement. In most cases, a target packet is approved within three days. For extremely urgent and hostile situations, it can be approved within hours.
In this particular case, the packet was approved in three days. The intelligence collected about the road was compelling and military leaders determined the road needed to be taken out.
"What we are doing is saving soldiers' lives," said Col. James Adams, deputy commander of the 2nd Brigade combat team. "We target many things based upon the intelligence we collect about how this enemy operates within our area of operations. We use numerous assets to do that; F-16 (Fighting Falcons), A-10 (Thunderbolt IIs), laser-guided bombs and Maverick missiles. We destroy the mines and it allows us to get to the close fight safely."
It was standing room only in the headquarters tent that night of the strike as Captain Carrigan and his team of JTACs worked alongside Army Soldiers.
Four screens at the front of the tent displayed live radar and images from unmanned aerial vehicles. In the corner of the tent, Tech. Sgt. Mike Cmelik, a JTAC, communicated directly with a B-1 Lancer pilot, using a telephone, laptop and a remotely operated video-enhanced receiver, or ROVER, system. He was also able to communicate directly with the UAV operator who sat across the room.
"There's more situational awareness in the headquarters than out in the field," said Sergeant Cmelik. "We're able to see the bigger picture and ensure no friendly forces in the area."
While constantly collecting and verifying data, Sergeant Cmelik and Captain Carrigan called out updates, letting the commanders and interested bystanders know the status of the drop.
"It can get pretty crazy in there, with everyone yelling back and forth," said Senior Airman Logan Abrams, the Bailey, Colorado-native JTAC journeyman who assisted Sergeant Cmelik and Captain Carrigan that night. "But right before the bombs drop, it gets quiet as everyone watches."
In a matter of minutes, a total of 15 bombs were dropped in three passes made by the B-1 bomber from the 379th Expeditionary Wing based in Southwest Asia. Numerous plumes of smoke, made black by the thermal imaging, appeared on the screen, indicating that the bombs hit secondary targets.
"That's good when we get those secondary explosions," said Capt. Carrigan. "It confirms that we're doing the right thing, our suspicions were correct and that the number of bombs we recommended was justified."
Having the JTACs at the headquarters has proven valuable over the course of the deployment, as such strikes happen almost daily, targeting weapons caches, mine fields and roads filled with IEDs, said Colonel Adams.
"The JTACs brings a great deal of experience," he said. "They help us as we develop the plans: which targets to hit, what type of ammunition, what type of air frame, and they help us get at where this particular enemy is placing his mines and storing his weapons."
He said he is also appreciative of the direct link the JTACs provide to the pilots overhead.
"They bring in the communication in order to talk directly to the pilots as we integrate Army and Air Force assets," he said. "We work as a team to ensure that we're hitting where we're aiming."