Just the other day the news broke that the Air Force had a woman in the training pipeline to be a member of the Air Force’s Special Operations Command (AFSOC). By entering the pipeline, she became just the 5th woman to attempt to join AFSOC.
The woman chose the very important and demanding career path to be one the Air Force’s TACP operators. The TACP stands for Tactical Air Control Party. The TACP operators have the tough job of embedding with Army and Marine Corps ground units and calling for airstrikes. Many times these airstrikes are the difference between life and death for the ground units and they have to be on-time, and on-target.
The training to become a TACP is tough physically, mentally and technically. They can talk to any friendly aircraft in the sky and know the capabilities and how to put them to use. Reading that the Air Force has another woman in the TACP training pipeline as well piqued my interest. I started to search articles to find out how these women were doing in her training.
Expecting foolishly to hear that her training was almost done, it wasn’t close to being true. Surprise, surprise, surprise (Gomer Pyle voice), I find out that this woman is just entering basic training at Lackland Air Force Base. Really? Are we as a country, that hung up on female inclusion into Special Operations that we’re going to make a big deal of a poor kid that has just entered boot camp? We’ve heard the same thing with the Navy and a couple of women who hadn’t entered training yet but volunteered for the Navy’s Special Warfare Training.
Thus far, the Air Force has not released the airman’s name and that is the absolute correct answer. I hope they keep it that way. We, as in the American public, don’t need to know anything about her or her progress in training because that’s the way the courses are designed to run. When…and if she graduates her training course, then, by all means, it becomes news and it should be reported on.
Ever since the Defense Department opened combat career fields to women in 2015, few females have attempted the Special Operations career fields of each service. Only a handful of airmen have qualified and entered TACP training, one was injured and was not able to complete the training and another failed for not meeting the standards. That’s why they call it “Special Operations” because not everyone is going to make it and attain the standards. I don’t know the washout rate for the Air Force’s Special Operations TACP program, but having worked with them as well as the Pararescue and CCT (Combat Controllers) of AFSOC, their training levels are high and the demanding courses must have attrition rates similar to the other Special Operations Forces, (SOF).
Then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that all military occupational specialties would open to women. Following that change, while the individual military services moved to open their battlefield programs to women, more importantly however they opted (and correctly so…for now) not diminish physical training standards.
All Air Force troops take their basic training at Lackland AFB, under the auspices of the 737th Training Group. Once completed, the candidates move onto the “Battlefield Airman Prep Course” and the indoctrination course before heading off to their specialty courses. These are carried out by the 37th Training Wing at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland (JBSA-Lackland). Then they begin the specialty course for Tactical Control Party (1C4xx). The other Air Force Special Operations specialties include the Pararescue Airman (1T2xx), Special Operations Weather (1W0xx), and the Combat Controller (1C2xx)
The last thing either of these candidates or the Air Force needs is to have the airmen or the training staff distracted by the media wanting the know the latest in basic training news. They are barely in the pipeline, so we need to let them and the process be. No one follows the travels of the 18X male recruits into basic training for the Army Special Forces. These women deserve the same anonymity.
We need to give them the same slack as the men attempting to enter Special Operations. Let the courses and the training cadre decide first whether or not they are making news before we flood Lackland or Ft. Benning with requests for media access to see what Candidate X scored on her basic rifle marksmanship.
The motto of the TACP Airmen is, “The strong will stand, the weak will fall by the wayside.” These airmen, known sometimes as the Air Force’s Infantry are the Army and Marine units’ eyes and ears for the air support that they bring to bear on the enemy. They ensure the bombs, artillery or missiles from friendly forces are directed accurately and on time. They are more than proficient in ground combat.
The training pipeline for the TACP Airmen takes about a year. But first, they will have to pass the Air Force Special Tactics Tactical Air Control Party Physical Fitness Test (ST TACP PFT). The TACP PFT consists of Pushups, Situps, Pull ups, 3-mile Run and a 12-Mile Rucksack March.
That is when the training begins in earnest. It will include but isn’t limited to basic radio maintenance and operation, land navigation, combat air support basics, and SERE School. They are airborne and most are Ranger qualified.
So sometime next year in early August, we’ll know if one or both of the two women in the training pipeline for the Air Forces’ TACP will be awarded the Black Beret. Until then, it isn’t news. Let them be, let the training staff’s do their job and then we’ll know whether or not they will earn the honor of being part of the Special Operations brotherhood…I guess that term may change if they are successful. Into the SOF community.
Photo Courtesy: US Air Force