TACPs are best of both worlds

By Sgt. Cody Quinn on June 23, 2016

Spend a moment on Joint Base Lewis-McChord and you will hear the siren wail of an Air Force jet pierce the sky. The steady roar from McChord Field has become part of the daily rhythm for area residents.

It would be easy to assume the Air Force's sole focus is putting their planes into operation.

"Soon as I joined the Air Force, people asked me what plane I fly," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Adam Long, a tactical air control party specialist with 5th Air Support Operations Squadron. "We're their direct ground troops. We're a little bit blue and a little bit green. We're teal."

TACP airmen are members of Air Force special operations and embed with ground units to direct airstrikes. The 5th ASOS personnel are frequently attached to deploying units, and competition helps maintain their readiness and keep their skills honed, according to Long.

Long was responsible for organizing JBLM's annual Tactical Air Control Party competition, June 14-16.

"We're keeping our TACPs competitive. It's a check on learning," Long, a native of Mercer, Pennsylvania, said. "The end-all be-all is bragging rights."

Two months of planning went into creating a competition that would simultaneously challenge the participants' minds and bodies.

"This establishes a baseline of where our learning is at," said Tech. Sgt. Daniel Staggs, a weapons instructor with 5th ASOS and Cincinnati native. "We want to take what our best have gotten right and wrong and apply those lessons to our training."

Participants were ranked on their completion of each leg of the competition, with equal emphasis given to physical ability and job knowledge.

"It's a different type of competition," Long said. "There will always be guys who crush two or three of the physical events, but not the others. Those people won't be the winner."

TACPs spend over six months training prior to entering the career field. With so much training under their belts, keeping their abilities sharp poses a challenge.

"They learn these skills during our technical school," said Tech. Sgt. Brian Jackson, a grader for the competition with 5th ASOS from Elkhart, Indiana. "Regular training like this helps improve their proficiency."

Competitors were challenged to create a makeshift antenna, pass multiple physical tests, and create tactical air missions while enduring 19-hour-long days and catching a rare nap while in the field.

Long won last year's competition, and with the victory, the responsibility to plan this year's iteration. He walked the different stations offering support and encouragement while his fellow TACPs tackled each challenge.

"You get invested in the competition," Long said. "You want to see them perform well. It's tough not being out there."

TACPs, while being Air Force personnel, are stationed on the Army side of JBLM. This gives them the unique distinction in the military world.

"We can reach out to our Air Force counterparts for support," Long said, after mentioning units from McChord had provided medical support for the competition. "We're better prepared because we have more resources, Air Force and Army, to reach out to."

TACP airmen are a melding of Army and Air Force, much like JBLM itself. This duality runs to the core of everything these grounded airmen do.

"You can't rely on being physically capable and not be competent in your technical skills," Long said. "You need a good balance."