BESMAYA RANGE COMPLEX, IRAQ
BESMAYA RANGE COMPLEX, Iraq - U.S. Army forward observers and U.S. Air Force air liaison officers partnered with joint tactical air controllers deployed to northern Iraq in support of U.S. Division-North during Joint Tactical Air Controller/Joint Forward Observer training at Besmaya Range Complex, March 17-18.
During the two-day training exercise at the range located east of Baghdad, soldiers and airmen called in close air support scenarios to U.S. Air Force F16 fighter pilots deployed with 13th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, from Misawa Air Base, Japan.
"It is outstanding that we can talk to the birds in the air today," said Sgt. Michael Peterson, forward observer, Company A, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, assigned to 1st Advise and Assist Task Force, 1st Infantry Division. "Having the F-16 pilots on the radio, and then watching them carry out the attacks, makes it all more realistic."
Forward observers, artillery soldiers who integrate into infantry units, relay target locations to artillery assets, explained Peterson, who hails from Aurora, Colo.
"Working with air assets broadens our skill set and makes us more well-rounded Soldiers, but even more importantly than that, we have to keep training to stay sharp," he said. "We have a perishable skill, and if we don't stay sharp, we lose it."
Receiving a call for fire from the soldiers and airmen, the Air Force pilots carried out close air support attacks on targets approximately two kilometers from the observer's position.
Employing fires using air assets is an important skill for forward observers to learn, said Air Force Staff Sgt. Nate Corean, joint tactical air controller, Joint Air Control Team, 368th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Group, assigned to 1st AATF, 1st Inf. Div.
"JTACs are basically a liaison between the Army and Air Force, and we usually make the call for air support; but there are not very many of us in country right now," said Corean. "We are making sure the FOs are trained up, because we need as many qualified people on the ground as possible, just in case somebody has to make that call."
Corean, a native of Sundance, Wyo., said he is excited to have had the opportunity to participate in the JTAC/JFO training during his deployment in support of Operation New Dawn.
"I have had a very quiet deployment which isn't a bad thing," he said, "but this is a kinetic job. If we aren't out there blowing things up, we aren't happy."
Soldiers and airmen also expressed gratitude to the Iraqi Army for allowing U.S. forces to use the Besmaya Range Complex, the only range in Iraq large enough to facilitate the JTAC/JFO training.
"I am really impressed with the way they ran things out here," said Capt. Matt Bolton, air liaison officer, 368th EASOG, attached to 1st AAFT, 1st Inf. Div. "The Iraqi range control is very professional, and they put a premium on safety."
The Iraqi Army operates and maintains the Besmaya range under the tutelage of U.S. civilian contractors.
Bolton said he believes joint training will strengthen relations between the Army and Air Force personnel, ultimately making for a stronger fighting force.
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