For years, controller trainees have been learning the basics of combat control while being pushed to the limit physically. When it’s finally time to deploy, the basics should be automatic at this point, leaving room to properly grasp the current situation. Once you step off that plane with your gear, you’re the expert. Everyone is looking to you.
Surprisingly to some, the most important part of being a CCT is mission planning. It’s the part everyone hates the most during training, but really becomes the bulk of your job while deployed. You’ve got to be flexible, personable, and available. Your ODA or SEAL team is going to function primarily during the day. They are busy training the locals, maintaining equipment, and occasionally hitting the roof for a little sun time. And they’ll need and expect your help around the camp.
Since you are the lone AF guy around (although there’s the potential to have a PJ attached with you, and maybe even another controller if you are in a place that supports a lot of operations) you help out as much as possible in order to bond with the team and get shit done. That means that while you are helping out the team during the day, you are busy with your workload at night. Day to day work ranges from gathering imagery from your sources, tasking aircraft to survey areas of interest, and constantly talking with pilots about upcoming ops. Pilots generally operate at night (the ones that are going to insert you/ cover your ass during insertion) and sleep during the day. So fully expect to be woken up at all hours answering the same questions you’ve already addressed. Pilot briefings (which you should always attend when able) happen at night, too, when the rest of the team is hitting the gym for the 2nd time that day, catching up on Netflix binge-watching, and using up all the hot water.
Needless to say, before you ever get out on your op, you’re gonna be working just as much as your team leader. On top of the other duties already listed, you are responsible for making maps, GRGs (gridded-reference graphics overlay an easy-to-use and see grid system on top of imagery along with named objects, roads, etc. to make communication within your team and to aircraft much easier. For example, calling a N-S running road California Rd is a lot easier than trying to tell an aircraft to look out his window at the 3rd goat path from the west, across the river, etc. As long as everyone gets these products in advance, communications are a lot simpler and you tie up the net with endless descriptions, grid coordinates, and attempts to correlate positions), establishing airspace for your team’s and the supporting aircraft’s personal use, and making note of any and all potential HLZs for quick extraction. Oh, and at some point right before your mission you need to double check your gear. Yet another reason why it’s important to get in good with your team- you can ask your guys for some help. I always had guys willing to help share the load and would stick around and help distribute the map products, pick up items from the nearest airfield if they were on a supply run, etc.
Now, all this stuff probably sounds pretty boring, and it is. But as a controller, you have to be a perfectionist. Granted, shit is of course going to change. But if you are given a week to prep for an op- use it wisely. It might sound like a lot at first, but other things are going to come up and you never EVER want to be dropped off on the X or the Y and feel unprepared. The only thing you can control is showing up for the mission knowing everything you can possibly know. You need to know the routes just as well as the point man. You need to know the anticipated actions of your allies, better than their commander. You need to know the most likely area you’ll take contact from. All the things that other guys can ask their team sergeant or each other about, you need to know on your own. You need to know all that because you’re walking along, at night, preferably with no moon, scanning for threats, looking for signs of IEDs, talking to and hearing your team in one ear, and up to 20 aircraft in the other, remembering up to 10 digit grids in your head while you mentally build a picture of where that is in relation to you (because you sure as shit aren’t about to bust out a light and a map during your walk into enemy territory), prioritizing information to pass along to your team leader, and building up 9-lines in your head to prosecute potential targets. So yeah, spend some time while you’re at camp and make your life a little easier.
Stay tuned for Part 5
Image courtesy: USN- Petty Officer 2nd Class Clayton Weis