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.