Stuttgart, Germany – Airmen from the Washington Air National Guard's 194th Air Support Operations Group joined service members from 13 countries for Exercise Trojan Footprint 18 from May 23 to June 8, 2018 in the Baltic region of Eastern Europe.
Trojan Footprint is a biennial U.S. Special Operations Command Europe-led exercise that incorporates U.S., NATO and European partner special operations forces. This year's exercise saw approximately 2,000 special operations and armed forces from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and the United States, as well as the armed forces of Sweden and the U.K. The exercise focused on crisis response, multinational mission command, and the integration of special operations forces with conventional forces.
The exercise occurred on the ground, in the air and on the Baltic Sea in and around Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Airmen of the 194th worked alongside Airmen from the Illinois Air National Guard’s 182nd Air Support Operations Group to provide key joint fires integration for special operations forces.
"The scale of Trojan Footprint 18 was massive in terms of the amount of special operations forces and countries it encompassed," said U.S. Navy Captain Anthony Baker, Deputy Commander of SOCEUR. "We quickly realized during planning that we would need to bring in subject matter experts on the integration of joint fires, so we reached out to the Air National Guard's ASOGs as they were the ideal organization with the right amount of special operations and conventional experience.”
The ASOG members, comprised of both Tactical Air Control Party Airmen (TACPs) and operational intelligence specialists, brought a unique blend of conventional joint firepower knowledge to the exercise. Working with Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen, the Washington-Illinois Guard team focused on integrating and educating their special operations force counterparts on fires, close air support, interdiction and electronic warfare mission sets that conventional forces bring to the battlefield.
“Their expertise and professionalism was critical to achieving SOCEUR’s training objectives,” said Baker. “We look forward to building on this relationship to increase U.S. European Command's capabilities during exercise or real-world contingencies."
The ASOG’s ability “to integrate with different commands, sister services, NATO and Baltic partners to increase our lethality, shorten the kill (effects) chain across multiple levels of command is a great opportunity to train, understand and learn to work together,” said Col. Francis Scolaro, commander of the 194th ASOG.
"Incorporating TACP into the joint forces special operations component command staff for this exercise, enabled a level of joint fires integration that would otherwise have been unattainable," said Maj. John Day, director of operations and air liaison officer for the 182nd ASOG. “The TACP is the Air Force's preeminent joint fires expert. Having these subject matter experts involved in both the plans and operations elements, ensured the component targeting cycle was nested within the theater overall plan."
Day helped lead the planning for the Guard team’s participation in the exercise. He was tasked with assisting the special operations force component joint fires team with creating and honing their battle rhythm to utilize the full breadth of both special and conventional joint firepower assets available. From his perspective, it’s a core mission for a TACP Airman.
While most of the TACP Airmen have experience with integrating special operations force and conventional force capabilities, a few members of the ASOG team saw the exercise as a great way to expand their knowledge of the special operations community.
"The ASOG brought expertise to the joint targeting process through different backgrounds. Our individual and collective experiences gave us a unique perspective that fits well with SOCEUR's mission. I definitely see a mutual benefit in training with SOF [special operations forces]. For my own professional development, it was enlightening to see a different side of the targeting cycle with a completely different set of priorities and capabilities as compared to the conventional mission set,” said Master Sgt. Amanda Light, 182nd ASOG Operations Intelligence Superintendent.
Light offered critical operational intelligence knowledge to the joint fires team and operational planning cell within the SOCEUR staff. Integrating numerous targeting and intelligence processes into one presented a major challenge for Light, who was identified as an exceptional performer by the exercise staff.
"At the Theater Special Operations Command, we're not staffed doctrinally to be able to provide this level of depth in targeting and fires, but in a conflict it's something we'll be expected to do," said U.S. Army Maj. Joe Breedlove, director of SOCEUR's Joint Fires Element. “The transition into a technically savvy and tactically competent Joint Fires enabler, is certainly not complete, however integration of the ASOGs into Trojan Footprint 18 was a significant step forward for this command and the European theater of operations. We must capitalize on lessons learned from the combat experience the members of the ASOGs provide, and train with our partners to share that knowledge and build on our capabilities here in Europe.”
A high operational tempo, characteristic of the Tactical Air Control Party, has allowed the Guard Airmen numerous opportunities to work with special operations forces over the last several years of combat operations. As a result, Airmen have a foundation of understanding needed to operate in new and more complex environments, including the Baltics.
“Integration, synchronization and de-confliction of Joint Fires between multiple echelons and Services has to be practiced consistently and frequently enough that our Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines have a high level of confidence that those Fires will affect the enemy at a time and place of our choosing. Practicing after the shooting starts is too late,” said Scolaro.
(Washington Air National Guard Story By Maj. Tim O’Mahoney)