GRASMERE, Idaho --
Nestled in the high desert hills of southern Idaho, lies Saylor Creek Training Range, with over 100,000 acres of open air space for local National Guard and Air Force units to utilize. For the first time in 1st Marine Division and I Marine Expeditionary Force history, 11 Marines trained to receive their certifications as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers during Exercise Garnet Rattler 2022.
April 11th through 29th, infantry Marines from Baker Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment and prospective JTACs from various units on Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms were trained and tested in various live-fire scenarios.
For U.S. Marine Corps Maj. David Cole and MSgt. Daniel Haack, JTAC program managers from 11th Marine Corps Regiment and the orchestrators of Garnet Rattler, the coordination and development of the exercise began when they saw an opportunity to give their students a more immersive experience through live ammunition and joint-branch communications.
“Working routinely with the Marines makes us better at doing our job, and helps make them better as well,” U.S. Air Force Maj. Jason Attinger, a 190th Fighter Squadron A-10 pilot
“We integrate the controllers into a legitimate line company scheme of maneuver, a movement to contact seizure, and have them hold cordons in an urban setting,” Haack said. “They have to run with the infantry Marines, maneuver with them, and follow orders from a ground force commander, work with a joint fires observer, and professionally communicate with an air crew at the same time while manipulating a rifle and under full combat load.”
During the training, the JTAC students are aided by close air support from neighboring A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthogs” and F-15 Strike Eagle Units based out of Mountain Home Air Force Base and Gowen Air National Guard Base. U.S. Air Force Maj. Jason Attinger, an A-10 pilot and long range coordinator for the 190th Fighter Squadron, says communicating with sister service units has been the catalyst for the success and planning of Garnet Rattler.
“Working routinely with the Marines makes us better at doing our job, and helps make them better as well,” Attinger said. “What the JTACS do on the ground is very important to the overall CAS mission. They bring a scheme of maneuver to the air which we may not be able to see from inside the cockpit. Their expertise on what the aircraft does to employ weapons is critical information to the ground force commander and what we can bring to the fight. They are essentially the ground force commander’s conduit to the air.”
Cole pulled from his own experience and training as a JTAC, saying Saylor Creek Range brought all elements of a combat scenario to the table. Prior to training events like Garnet Rattler, JTAC students were certified while postured in an OP tower for the entirety of their certification.
Coordinating Air Support
Photo by Sgt. Dana Beesley
U.S. Marine Corps Joint Terminal Attack Controller students with 1st Marine Division coordinate close air support for an urban assault at Saylor Creek Range in Grasmere, Idaho during Exercise Garnet Rattler April 28, 2022. Garnet Rattler is a joint training event between Marines, Soldiers and Airmen to train and qualify JTACs to be more efficient and lethal in a realistic training environment.
“It’s great to see our vision come to life,” Cole said. “By the end of the course, I expect the JTACs to be able to integrate fully with a ground force commander and be able to maneuver with the ground element while controlling CAS, without missing a beat.”
As a student in the course, Capt. Taylor Bussick, a V-22 Osprey Pilot and air officer with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, said his prior aviation training helped him remain focused while conducting each scenario.
“Marines are maneuvering all around, rounds are flying overhead, instructors are simulating incoming fire, and we are trying to accurately communicate with the aircraft,” Bussick said. “Being able to take that mental agility and task management skills we learned during flight training and apply it here helps us stay focused and unflappable.”
Bussick said that through Garnet Rattler, he and the other students were given a once-in-a-career opportunity to conduct true combat scenarios.
“Out here, we are given multiple sections to manage in the stack and conduct controls in a very dynamic environment working with joint assets we’re not used to,” Bussick said. “Coming out here we not only get the opportunity to work jointly with the Air Force, but see tactics and procedures from other assets that we could see down range. This gives us the opportunity to work in sync with them and get exposure to their capabilities making us a much more lethal and overall effective fighting force.”