Thirty Airmen of the 5th Air Support Operations Squadron were put to a demanding, weeklong test during a recent Tactical Air Control Party competition that simulated the challenges of regular deployments.
With a 14-mile ruck march in full body armor and a 10-hour land navigation exercise, the competition felt like a kick in the pants to Staff Sgt. Benjamin Graser.
But it reveals all of your weaknesses, Graser said. The long days and early hours really simulate the high-operations tempo.
During the past six years, the 5th ASOS cycled between six-month deployments and stateside dwell times. But with the drawdown of forces, units are challenged to maintain skills needed during deployments.
Technical sergeants of 5th ASOS created a competition to challenge and test proficiency and build morale. They saw the event as a good test for competitive ASOS Airmen.
We like those guys who want to make things happen and act, said Master Sgt. Eduardo Ramos, 5th ASOS operations superintendent. The essence of the competition is really bringing out the best in our guys.
The TACP competition tested Airmen in skill sets from Army and Air Force doctrine. 5th ASOS functions alongside the Army in Joint Terminal Attack Control of aircraft in support of Army Schemes of Maneuver and Close Air Support.
This differs from the majority of the Combat Air Force as the traditional front-line fighters are officers flying combat aircraft, said Lt. Col. Russell Hall, director of support for the 5th ASOS. Here, roles are reversed and our enlisted troops are front and center fighting with the Soldiers of the U.S. Army.
After the land navigation exercise that began at 4 a.m. March 14, teams took turns performing a close air support exercise that required tactically observing a Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain site to identify simulated enemy targets.
The Airmen fired the M4 carbine rifle and M9 pistol for record, changed tires on a humvee and underwent proficiency and knowledge tests on field skills. Staying sharp was a challenge for Airmen deploying regularly with 5th ASOS.
The Airmen were split into 15 teams to tackle each part of the missions. The units experienced NCOs helped guide many of the younger Airmen.
Senior Airman Justin Ramos and Senior Airman Matthew Wicker won the overall TACP competition. Both received Air Force achievement awards for their performance while also being granted the opportunity to represent the 5th ASOS in Maple Strike 14-01, from April 28 to May 9 at Canadian Forces Base in Wainwright, Alberta, Canada.
The TACP competition was an opportunity to train in a different environment; 5th ASOS Airmen have participated in exercises not only at JBLM, but also throughout the Pacific region Korea, Japan, Singapore and the Philippines.
Ramos said the event was an overall good use of the 5th ASOS resources without having to pull from outside agencies as the majority of the unit helped plan and execute the operation, starting only a few weeks prior to the first event March 10.
Hall credited the nearly full-time job to Capt. Jordan Gorraiz, Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Bowling, Tech. Sgt. Cody Quinn and Senior Airman Ezekiel Rodriguez for coordinating the entire competition.
It is no small feat they accomplished, Hall said. They were the reason this competition was such a huge success.