JTAC close air support training
By Cpl. April Price, I Marine Expeditionary Force
Five Joint Terminal Attack Controller Marines climbed aboard a UH-1Y Huey at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Air Station, Dec. 15, and an hour later were sending rounds down range in the Marine Corps Air, Ground Combat Training center, Twentynine Palms, California.
Paired with an AH-1Z Super Cobra attack helicopter, the Marines’ roles were to assist a notional ground combat unit as its forces conducted high-value target search. When targets of opportunity where located, the JTAC Marines were there to coordinate close air support.
“Upon arrival, we established an overwatch position on a high-value target, where we will then engage in overhead fires,” said Sgt. Elizabeth Azcuenaga, a weapons and tactics instructor with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. “In addition, it’s my job to make sure both of the Marines manning the guns are properly handing the weapon and executing the mission.”
The training conducted in open areas surrounded by hills to allow a vast amount of visibility for the training. During this exercise, the M134 GAU-17 Gatling Gun and GAU-21/A .50-caliber Machine Gun were used to simulate suppressive fire.
“Training collectively gives us the opportunity to build unit cohesion, increase productivity and focus on mission accomplishment, as well as experience with being behind the guns,” said 1st Lt. James Shelton, an aerial observer with HMLA-169, MAG 39, 3rd MAW.
Manning the machine gun can be a challenge, but an enjoyable one Shelton added. During the training, Shelton was accompanied by Lance Cpl. Taylor Vollmer, a crew chief with HMLA-169, MAG 39, 3rd MAW, who handled the Gatling gun.
“The training allowed me to effectively mount, fire and coordinate as many attacks as I could to support the mission,” said Vollmer. “I’ve participated in JTAC exercises before, but you always managed to learn something new during each flight.”
JTACs support service members on the ground in overseas contingency operations ensuring that someone high above the sky has their backs in life and death situations.