Air Force forward combatants lead the charge…


It’s often been said that the Air Force “stays in the rear with the gear.” This simply is not true…well, not of all Air Force. This article originally appeared in the Mig Alley Flyer 31 AUG 1990. I made several trips up to the DMZ during my time in Korea to cover various stories. This one, however, is one of my most memorable. I spent three or four days with the 5th TACG living with them, bunking with them, eating with them, and experiencing military life from its perspective. Some of the things I remember are a) this was a really great bunch of guys. They were very happy to have a visitor, and happy that somebody “from the world” was taking an interest in what they were doing. They invited me to return several times and, although I had every intention of doing so, was never able to make it back. Always felt bad about this; b) They badgered me to no end to train on their obstacle course with them. I kept myself in pretty good shape in those days and was happy to oblige. Part of their strategy, however, was to take me out for a late night in their “ville.”. I’m guessing we had about two hours of “sleep” before they dragged my physical self out to that obstacle course. Straight-up pride was the only thing which allowed me to complete the course, and complete it without puking up the previous night’s chow. I finished in the middle of the pack, which was respectable. I could have moved up a few notches in the standings, but I remember some of those guys barely touching the obstacles – no way I would have beaten the cream of this crop. C) the man in the picture is Sergeant Joel Hokkanen. As always, I wonder what he is up to these days?

I don’t know if this still an Air Force career field? I am guessing that technology has advanced to a level that this service is no longer required. However, I know that during the first gulf war (Desert Shield/Storm), these guys were out there in full force. CNN, nor any of the other networks, told their story, but I knew they were out there risking their lives so that our “smart bombs” could find the targets. I understand this topic is one that can be debated. There is no doubt that the U.S. introduced new technology at this time, and that advancements in laser and satellite technology have come a long way.  Like I said, I don’t know if these units still even exist, nor am I an expert…but I do know these guys were out there in some capacity during Desert Storm. Forward operating is forward operating…and these guys were bad asses.


5th TACG controllers call the strikes


When things get hot in the heat of battle and the Army needs air support, it’s the Tactical Air Control Parties it looks to for assistance. Because without TACG, our pilots would not know where to fly. It’s up to the 11 most forward deployed members in the entire Air Force to plot such courses.

Falling under several Army units in its chain of command, they are ultimately a part of the 5th out of Suwon Air Base. Physically, they are stationed at Camp Howze…smack up against the Demilitarized Zone.

“Anywhere there are Army maneuver units, there are TACP’s composed of Air Liaison Officers and Enlisted Terminal Attack Controllers,” Capt. Steve Wills, the ALO at Camp Howze, said. “We provide a liaison between the Army and the Air Force. When the Army needs A-10’s or F-16’s, we help them get that support, and determine where those aircraft need to strike.

“Our guys are always right up there on the front line. Here at Camp Howze, we are assigned with the ‘Frontline Brigade,’ Captain Wills added.

Working with the Army, the enlisted controllers’ responsibilities differ greatly from other Air Force career fields. For starters, there is a good chance none will ever actually be stationed at an Air Force Base. Most of the approximately 750 enlisted controllers in the Air Force spend their entire careers assigned to Army Posts. This means that in addition to Air Force training, they must also learn Army tactics in order to successfully complete their mission.

“All of us in the TACP business have to be able to recognize threats and learn Army symbology,” Captain Wills said. “We spend a lot of time in the field with the Army and if we can’t communicate, we can’t do our jobs. We recently assisted some Army commanders in an exercise here where we called in A-10’s and F-16’s from Kunsan and Osan Air Bases to simulate attacks.

“We have to be there not only to direct the aircraft, but also to answer the Army’s questions,” Captain Wills explained. “Sometimes we have to explain why the Air Force does things a certain way. The Army will also ask us to do things we cannot and we have to explain to them why.”

Being assigned with the Army can sometimes be difficult, especially at a forward post as isolated as Camp Howze. With the exception of a new bowling alley and a small post exchange, there is not much available here beyond facilities required to support the mission. The commissary, clothing sales, supply, and accounting and finance are among the services they must make do without.

“We have to make the run over to Osan to take care of most of our business, or over to Camp Casey if we need a large BX,” Captain Wills said.

Getting used to Army life is something that comes naturally to some, though. Sgt. Larry Smith, a seven-year Air Force veteran, has no problems.

“I’ve only been here two months, but I kind of like it. It’s small and quiet and I’ll be able to save more money than I would anywhere else,” he said.

Despite the remoteness of this forward operating location, the Air Force still manages to take of its own. Osan’s 554th Red Horse Engineering Squadron is in the process of building an addition to the Air Force dormitories here. There are currently some members who reside in the old Marine-style barracks, or Quonset huts. Completion of this project will allow all enlisted Air Force personnel to reside in one building.

Aside from daily training, the controllers are preparing for the eighth tactical air controller competition at Hurlburt Field, FL, Oct. 28 through Nov. 2. Korea is fielding two teams, with one alternate, in the 50-team competition.

“The event includes a two-mile combat run with gear, including helmets and 35-pound rucksacks, an obstacle course, 9 mm pistol shooting and day/night navigation,” the Captain explained.

Teams from Korea hope to fare well this year. Korea took a second, third, fourth and 23rrd place finish in various events, out of 44 teams, in last year’s competition. Three of last year’s competitors representing Korea were from Camp Howze.

Working together as a team is the only way the folks at Camp Howze can complete the mission. Next time the call goes out, you better bet the Air Force is going to be ready.


Osan troops commended for flood fighting efforts

NOTE: This article first appeared in The MiG Alley Flyer Sept. 21, 1990 after the area had been hit by severe monsoon floods. My “special duty” assignment for the flood fighting effort was to help keep the drainage system clean. This system was a series of sewage pipes and ditches called “binjo ditches.” I assigned to a team in which we had to get in the ditches and remove debris while standing in chest high water. We also had to reach into the open sewer pipes with rakes and hooks to pull objects out. I distinctly remember three things about this choice assignment: 1) The duty of a few team members was to stand above the ditches and keep an eye out for snakes and rats while the rest of us worked; 2) The smell of the nasty sewer water; 3) My combat boots were so water-logged from this detail that I received a voucher from the squadron commander for a brand new pair. A new pair of boots might sound like a pretty good deal to some folks. But to anybody who has ever served, there is actually not a more comfortable form of footwear anywhere on this Earth than a broken-in pair of combat boots. It takes quite a bit of “hoofin’ it” to regain the optimum comfort level with a new pair of boots. It was like saying good-bye to an old friend. In fact, I think they may have played taps that night if I remember correctly. Thanks for reading.
The entire Mustang Community came together last week to overcome damage caused by high waters much higher. Although everyone played an important role in prevention and clean-up efforts, several folks stood out for their exemplary performance.
One such person was SMSgt. Brian Stanley of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Maintenance Section. Sergeant Stanley assisted with the installation of a canopy for an F-16. He then moved the aircraft to safety thus avoiding any damage. He also took charge of a clean-up effort at Bldg. 1824 by forming a team which removed carpet and cleaned the building, minimizing damage and restoring full operation in a short time.
Capt. Richard Brunson and CMSgt. Ernesto Lau headed up a group of eight people from logistics in organizing and managing the relocation of more than $17 million worth of aircraft parts from the Aircraft Generation Squadron to safer ground.
“Their actions and quick thinking and minimized further damage to the AGS parts store and prevented damage to the shop service center,” Maj. David Dining, 51st Civil Engineering, said.
Also, Sergeants Lona Adkins and Vernon Chisholm, along with Airmen First Class Jeffrey Soronen and Catherine Sabados, filled and moved sand bags, and built up walls, to help battle rapidly rising water levels.
SSgt. Herbert Shirlee, Amn. John Haaf and Mr, Kim, Pak Kyong moved refueling equipment from flooded areas and assisted maintenance in moving munitions and aerospace ground equipment.
The Equipment Maintenance Squadron also had its share of unsung heroes as 50 pieces of AGE equipment, some weighing as much as 6,000 pounds, had to be removed from waste high water.
“Nine people had to wade around in water for three hours to get the equipment out,” said SMSgt. Melvin Weaver, AGE Branch chief. “They had to feel around in the water to get the equipment hooked up and out of there. They then turned around and restored everything to operational order and got back out on the flight line.”
More than thirty people from the 36th Tactical Fighter Squadron helped minimize water damage to one of its buildings. They moved sandbags in and outside the building, organized evacuation efforts, and braved snake and rat infested water to move life support equipment.
“Now that the clean-up has begun, all the men and women of the 36th TFS are pulling together with pride and enthusiasm to get our squadron operation up and running in minimum time. They are all exceptional,” squadron commander Lt. Col. Kevin Phillips said.
SSgt. Dale McQuillin, also from EMS, received special mention for his efforts. The sergeant from the line delivery section went out and searched for both live and training munitions in waist-deep water. He had to feel around with his hands to locate any ordnance and relocate all of it to a safer area.
The Services Squadron was also a bright spot during the ordeal. The services people here, as well as Suwon, were able to carry out the mission with minimal interruption. However, SrA. Kurt Zarnstorf and Sgt. Michael Terry, took on the task of feeding the troops fighting Mother Nature. Together, they provided 195 boxed lunches, eight containers of coffee, eight containers of juice, and 84 cases of meals ready to eat.