VALGA County, Estonia — They are the enablers and conduits of connectivity between multinational forces in close air support involved in offensive and defensive operations from a forward position.
In this case, two Tactical Air Control Party members, U.S. Air Force Maj. Karl Hurdle and Tech Sgt. Laurence Paradis, from the Oklahoma National Guard's 146th Air Support Operations Squadron, work alongside Estonian counterparts during Exercise HEDGEHOG, also known as Siil 2018, to formalize the ideal situation for a successful airlift in a simulated combat scenario.
Carrying an orange and pink VS17 panel marker in his hands, Paradis, a qualified U.S Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controller, works to mark a specific location for an in-coming Estonian Air Force Robinson 44 and U.S. Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter to land for an air mission briefing. He's keeping in close contact with pilots to assist with planning combined fires and effects from the air.
Meanwhile, Hurdle stays with the Estonian Defense Force's brigade air liaison officer, Lt. Janno Õsso, to advise and assist him on successfully completing the multinational airlifts.
Each have an important role in the exercise; to integrate JTAC capabilities between U.S. partners and allies.
"I'm an air liaison officer and I've been working with Õsso during this exercise to develop himself as a knowledgeable and confident ALO for his brigade," Hurdle said. "This is the most rewarding part of my job."
Õsso is the ALO for the Estonian 2nd brigade and coordinating for the 43rd Estonian Defense League Battlegroup, a battalion-sized light infantry unit consisting of both volunteers and professional soldiers. Most of the 43rd soldiers are from Southern Estonia and familiar with the terrain, so they can use it to their advantage.
"I'm very new in the ALO role with 2nd brigade," Õsso said. "I've gained so much experience from Hurdle and Paradis and I would not have been this successful if it were not for them."
The TACP members from the Oklahoma National Guard assist with the communications plan for JTACs in the area of the landing zone and de-conflict airspace. They also advise on specific conditions, such as wind changes, enemy presence, and other hazardous considerations the aircrafts may encounter during their mission.
"Interoperability plays a big part with the ALO," said Paradis. "The ALO is the focal point for air-to-ground operations between multinational forces."
The TACP will coordinate with the brigade fire support officers, an air operations and air support operations center to ensure the mission goes as planned.
"De-confliction of airspace allows ground fires to occur while keeping everyone safe in the air," Paradis said.
However, to Hurdle and Paradis, assisting Estonian TACP members become skilled in JTAC capabilities is not new for the Oklahoma Guard. "We've had a relationship built with Estonia for the past couple years working together to enhance their JTAC qualifications from brigade-level down," said Hurdle. "ALOs have to understand how JTACs operate for both rotatory and fixed wing assets to effectively engage targets."
The Oklahoma Guard regularly works with Estonia to develop JTAC capabilities in the defense forces through exercises such as HEDGEHOG 2018, occurring every 3-4 years, and Spring Storm, an annual exercise. And although Estonia has been the State Partnership Program nation to the Md. Guard since 1993, Okla. Guard also supports this vital mission.
HEDGEHOG 2018, occurring May 2-14, is the largest exercise ever conducted in Estonia with a nation-wide training area and major activities conducted in South-East Estonia and Northern Latvia. The purpose of the exercise is to train on territorial defense, both in conventional and asymmetrical warfare.
Internally, the exercise brings together members of the Estonian Defense League, Women's Home Defense League, and regular Defense Force.
Additionally, Estonian police and border forces and emergency management personnel also participated. With cooperation from 15 NATO allied forces, over 15,000 personnel participated in Exercise HEDGEHOG 2018. The Md. and Mich. National Guard also participated in the exercise.