FORT CHAFFEE MANEUVER TRAINING CENTER, Ark. – The crunch of gravel is swiftly drowned out by the sounds of rapid gunfire as a small, six-man team finds cover in a tree line and targets enemy forces.
As the air fills with green smoke and the gunshots of the ambush continue, the Airmen work together to bring in a powerful asset to neutralize the simulated target – U.S. Air Force airpower.
This six-man team is one of four who participated in the field training exercise, or FTX, portion of the Initial Combat Skills Training Course (ICST) at Fort Chaffee Maneuver Training Center, Arkansas, April 13-17.
The course, hosted at least twice a year by the 138th Combat Training Flight (CTF), headquartered at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base in Oklahoma City, is an intensive two-month training program that comes right after the technical school for Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) specialists. It is also the only one of its kind in the U.S. Air Force.
"Specific to the Air National Guard, this course provides Airmen the opportunity to get their 5-level training," said Lt. Col. Jason Davis, 138th CTF commander. "The ANG asked us to stand up this program, basically four years ago, based on the needs of the community. We put the Airmen through a lot of the basics of being a TACP specialist to prepare them to then become qualified Joint Terminal Air Controllers later on."
The course includes training on radio communication equipment, targeting equipment, Army attack aviation call for fires, small unit tactics and close air support.
"It's basically getting them signed off on their Career Field and Education Training Plan and becoming combat mission ready," said Tech. Sgt. Justin Davis, 138th CTF ICST course manager. "They need to get combat mission ready in order to take the next step in their careers."
The field training exercise (FTX), which takes place the last four days of the ICST class, brings together the curriculum from the entire course while offering a realistic test of the students' skills in a continuous and building environment.
"It's more like a simulated deployment combined into a few days," said Senior Airman Brandon Hernandez, an ICST student from 165th Air Support Operations Squadron, Georgia Air National Guard. "We go from mission to mission with not a lot of sleep and back-to-back operations to get us used to the grind, while combining everything we've learned in the last seven weeks."
Having the FTX portion at Fort Chafee also offers a unique perspective to students, while allowing them to check off a large variety of training objectives.
"Chaffee is really a one-stop shop for us," said Tech. Sgt. Davis. "They have the best forward operating base setup that we've seen, we can do heavy guns here along with our other training areas, and we get more of a look at the Army perspective, which is important because they're a JTAC's main customer."
For the students, the course offers knowledge that goes further than the skills they learn.
"Not only do they go a lot more in-depth here, but the instructors are incredible," said Hernandez. "They love teaching, and they love what they do. We benefit a lot from their attitudes and what they put forth."
Similarly, for Lt. Col. Davis, the course comes down to preparing the next generation of TACP specialists with the best instructors from all over the nation.
"Our instructors are experienced and professional," he said. "It's a pretty awesome group of guys that work long hours and put in a lot of effort and who they are into making these students as good as they can be. I'm pretty proud about that."
As the smoke clears and the gunfire fades into the wind, the team of ICST students begin their trek back to their bases where they will wait for their next, real-world challenge. Meanwhile, the instructors prepare for the next team and lie in wait for future classes.