All posts by ktomlin

‘Sir, tell the TACP thanks,’ Dec. 12, 2012


TACPBy Brig. Gen. Jack L. Briggs II
Headquarters, Air Combat Command

On May 13, 2010, an Airman First Class taught me some lessons I’ll never forget. I think of Airman 1st Class Corey Hughes almost every week. His actions on that particular day in May remind me to focus on others first, that heroic leaders exist among us all the time, and doing the right thing takes courage but is worth it.

When troops on the ground in Afghanistan run into trouble, our asymmetric advantage is our ability to bring airpower to bear quickly and accurately. It was no different on May 13. A patrol of soldiers ran into an ambush in eastern Afghanistan, receiving large volumes of enemy mortar, heavy machine gun, rocket propelled grenades and small-arms fire. My formation of two F-15E Strike Eagles was called to support the “Troops in Contact” situation or “TIC.” As we arrived on scene, there were already American wounded.

For the aircraft overhead, our contacts on the ground are young, well trained and brave Airmen embedded with each Army unit; they are called Tactical Air Control Parties (TACP). They are the node between the Army ground commanders and the Airmen providing support overhead. They translate the situation from the ground commander’s perspective, integrate airpower into the plan of maneuver or fires and guide our attacks with amazing precision. That can sound antiseptic and simple on paper, but in the thick of the battle, it is 100 percent adrenaline, noise and concentration as bullets fly.

The fight on the ground was very violent by the time my flight arrived. Our initial contact was with Airman 1st Class Hughes who was yelling into the radio. He had to be loud as he keyed the mic, because his voice was drowned out by the sound of gunfire in the background. His calls were quick and broken, as he stopped to fire his own weapon in between radio calls. At one point he said, “Stand by” and the radio went silent. For the next few minutes, we orbited overhead and waited. Where was he? We called but no answer. Finally, his voice came back. He was out of breath and huffing into his mic, but he calmly gave us the plan to provide a show of force and cover the ingress of helicopters to evacuate the patrol — first the wounded and then the rest of the team. The show of force bought them time and space, and eventually all were extracted safely from a tough situation.

After we landed and debriefed our mission, I headed to the Bagram Craig Joint Theater Hospital. Craig Hospital is one of the advanced coalition hospitals in Afghanistan that receives wounded from the battlefield and stabilizes them prior to their onward movement to more medical care in the US.

I visited regularly to talk with our medical warriors and see how the wounded were doing. On that day, I had a chance to check up on several of the wounded from the very firefight we’d supported only hours before. I spoke to a few of the Soldiers from that fight, told them they were getting the best care in the world and turned to leave, when a shout of “Sir! Sir!” made me stop. I turned to see a shirtless wounded Soldier who was shot in the legs, calling out for my attention. He motioned me back. His eyes reflected his urgency to tell me something. I walked back, closed the curtain behind me, and crouched to get to his level on the bed.

“Sir, tell the TACP thanks,” he urgently requested. I asked what happened. His story explained the mystery from earlier in the day when A1C Hughes went silent on the radio. This Soldier was moving from one position to another during the firefight and was hit in the legs. Unable to move, he took what cover he could. While performing his primary duty of directing air support, Airman 1st Class Hughes noticed that this Soldier could not move on his own, told us to “stand by”, and ran toward him. He picked the Soldier up and fireman-carried him to a covered position. The Soldier said the one thing he would never forget was that while he was being carried several hundred meters through deadly fire he was staring at a patch on the shoulder of his rescuer. The patch read “TACP.” The Soldier didn’t know the Airman’s name nor did he see him again. He just asked that I pass along the thanks somehow.

I spent the next few days tracking the TACP down and that’s when I met Airman 1st Class Hughes and heard his story first hand. I told him when our F-15E formation checked in we heard the shooting in the background of every radio call. I described how we listened to his clipped calls to us, his calm call to us to “stand by” and then how there were minutes of silence, leaving us concerned as to what was happening. I told him we then heard him breathlessly get back on the radio as he called for our show of force.

“What was going on down there?” I asked. He told me how some of the wounded were near his position and he was going back and forth, under heavy fire, to check on them, give them water and help them out the best he could until MEDEVAC arrived. Corey said he saw a Soldier who could not move on his own and immediately went to pick him up and carry him to safety. Airman 1st Class Hughes then retraced his steps through the enemy fire to get back to his position and continue to call in our effects. What immediately caught my attention was Airman 1st Class Hughes’ tone of voice. He clearly believed his actions weren’t anything special and others would do the same if in that situation.

I often consider the lessons Airman 1st Class Corey Hughes taught that day. His actions inspire us to put others first, understanding there can be a cost. His example affirms that there are brave leaders all around us willing to step forward when it counts, despite the risks. He reminds me that both success and courage are defined by doing what is right, even as the bullets fly. Like the wounded Soldier, I also want to tell the TACP, A1C Hughes, “thanks.”

Photo: Senior Airman Dustin Harris, left, and 1st Lt. John Day, center, discuss radio frequencies with a Soldier assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division during an exercise in frequency hopping at Fort Bragg, N.C. Frequency hopping is changing regular frequencies during transmission, a radio operation technique that ensures secrecy and protects against communication channel jamming. Day and Harris are tactical air control party members with the 14th Air Support Operations Squadron. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Robin Meredith/Photo by Airman 1st Class Alexander Riedel)

Strong, positive leaders engage Airmen, Dec. 5, 2012


F-15 fly in formation at the Air Force Memorial.

By Col. Jason Beck
51st Security Forces Squadron commander

The stripes, bars, oak leaves, eagles and stars on our uniforms tell the world that we are leaders. Strong, positive leadership is crucial in today’s ever changing Air Force, and the rank on our uniform illustrates visible symbols of our leadership authority that the Air Force has placed on us. But, being a leader consists of much more than the rank that you wear on your uniform. I have been fortunate in my career to be surrounded by phenomenal leaders. The lessons I learned from them helped me develop into the officer I am today. I pass these “essentials” of leadership on to you in the hopes that they help you as much as they have helped me.

Remember, you are a leader 24/7, in and out of uniform, on and off base – not just when it is convenient for you. When your Airmen are working hard, don’t spare yourself, do the same and set the example. Leadership by example isn’t something you can delegate. You must demonstrate it daily. Clock watching shouldn’t happen, especially in today’s “do more with less,” resource-constrained environment.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence in your unit. While being honest with others is paramount, you also have an obligation to be honest with yourself. Don’t do things just to make yourself look good in front of the boss. If this is your idea of being a good leader, you’ve lost before you’ve even started.

It’s imperative we leaders get actively involved in the lives of our Airmen. Demonstrate through actions, not words, that you care about your Airmen and about the conditions they live and work in. Always accept total responsibility for any organizational failures and remember, leaders fix mistakes and never blame others.

Organizations achieve success by having responsible “doers,” not dreamers. Large projects and meaningful achievements are accomplished by brave Airmen in the trenches, not by those who watch from a distance; not by the fans in the stands but by the focused, committed players and coaches on the field; not by those leaders who stay in the middle of the road where things are safe but by those leaders who get off the fence of indecision, even though their decisions are sometimes unpopular. Be a leader and take the decisive action needed; earn your rank every day.

Set standards high and insist everyone else measure up. Haircuts, uniform wear, basic customs and courtesies; these may not be at the top of your priority list as a leader, but if these small details start falling off in your organization, it won’t be long before things such as discipline and job performance begin to suffer. Ensure you work hard for your subordinates – they deserve the best and count on you to set the right tone in your unit.

Communicate with your Airmen daily. Be able to articulate how the role of each Airman contributes to the unit’s mission and how that mission fits into the role of the wing. Know your role and ensure your Airmen are intimately familiar with theirs. Communicate with your Airmen in their work centers, not yours, make yourself available and take the message to them. As hard as it can be, always take the time to leave your desk and make yourself visible in their work areas to demonstrate genuine concern for what your Airmen are doing and thinking. Listen. Airmen are full of great ideas, but they won’t see the light of day if a positive communication climate is not established and fostered.

Above all, be honest with your subordinates and superiors. Tell it like it is and insist that your Airmen do the same. There are few things that can be more disastrous to the dynamics of an organization than “yes” people, half-truths and a lack of integrity.

I sincerely hope that you’ve had the good fortune to be surrounded by great leaders in your career like I have. There are as many principles of good leadership as there are people who serve as leaders. However, that doesn’t diminish the importance of strong, positive, engaged leadership.

As a leader, it is imperative you select and carry out the principles that work the best for you and your Airmen.

Photo: Four F-15E Strike Eagles fly June 2, 2011, above the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gino Reyes)

Air Force Week in Photos, Oct. 26, 2012

U.S. Air Force Week in Photos graphic

By Airman 1st Class Krystal Tomlin
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

It’s the last weekend before Halloween, and some of you will be out tonight. Remember to stay safe. The good news is that looking at our Week in Photos is risk free!

Photo: Members of the 33rd Rescue Squadron fly an HH-60G Pave Hawk at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Oct. 20, 2012. The rescue squadrons participated in an air show to help highlight the relationship between the U.S. service members and South Korea through public demonstrations of military equipment and personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sara Csurilla)

Week in Photos, October 19, 2012

Week in Photos GraphicBy Senior Airman Grovert Fuentes-Contreras
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

Let’s think about it, photographers put themselves in situations to get shots like the ones in Week in Photos for you. If you were a photographer, what would you want to take pics of?

Photo: Tech. Sgt. Bobby Colliton instructs Staff Sgt. Dane Hatley at combat survival training during 2012 Pacific Thunder near Osan Air Base, South Korea, Oct. 15, 2012. Colliton is a survival evasion resistance and escape specialist from the 18th Operation Support Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Japan, and Hatley is a 33rd Rescue Squadron flight engineer. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sara Csurilla)

Air Force Academy energy research will yield global benefits, October 18, 2012

Glass beakers

By Lt. Col. Patrick Suermann
Air Force Academy Civil and Environmental Engineering Department

“I am Air Force Energy” is more than just a catchphrase at the Air Force Academy. Those words, provided by Air Force Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Dr. Kevin Geiss as the theme for Energy Awareness Month, resonates at the Air Force Academy, whose faculty are innovating across the spectrum of academic departments to further educate and develop future leaders of character and advance energy technology.

After studying energy-related topics in two core courses, Chemistry 110 and Physics 110, cadets can take the science and technology energy systems core option or specialize in approximately 17 major’s courses from Economics to Engineering that deal with the importance of being informed energy consumers and engineers.

Dr. Darrell Pepper, a distinguished visiting professor from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas teaching in the Academy’s Engineering Mechanics Department, donated a 3-kilowatt wind turbine for study in the renewable energy course offered here. The turbine provides hands-on experience for cadets, Pepper said.

In time, Pepper said he expects the turbine will be moved outdoors so cadets can study it in a more realistic setting.

“This class, with its practical approach, will prepare our cadets to make energy-wise decisions when they are leaders in the Air Force,” said Dr. Mike Maixner, an instructor in the Engineering Mechanics Department. “The Defense Department will greatly benefit from energy-aware officers.”

Similarly, Dr. Karen Henry received a grant to install an energy foundation system and associated monitoring equipment in a lavatory facility recently constructed at the Field Engineering and Readiness Laboratory in Jacks Valley. The facility uses a geothermal approach to heating and cooling: Energy foundations combine with the structural supports for a building with a heat pump so that the foundations can be used as ground-source heat exchangers.

This provides a cost-efficient approach to conserve energy, reduce carbon emissions and reduce installation costs. Eventually, Henry will compare measured performance indicators, including construction and lifecycle costs, with those expected for conventional heating and cooling systems.

Lt. Col. Andrew Laffely, Maj. Brian Cooper and Al Mundy have established a renewable energy lab in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department with support from the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The lab allows cadets to study the implementation of wind and solar energy. In the past four years, cadets have developed wind turbines, solar power systems and an electric vehicle. The team is currently integrating these technologies into a deployable vehicle system and modular microgrid that can operate without external fuel supply for the life of the battery system.

Col. Robert Kraus, the Academy’s chief scientist and director of research, and Dr. Randy Knize, the center director, highlight two projects at different levels of completion: cycloidal wave energy and silicon’s use in photovoltaic solar cells.

Academy researchers studied wave energy conversion using cycloidal turbines from September 2008 to August 2012. The project demonstrated advances in harnessing ocean waves and resulted in the foundation of a spinoff company, Atargis Energy Corporation. Atargis Energy obtained U.S. Energy Department funding to further advance their approach.

Knize also overseas Academy researchers conducting studies into black silicon. Silicon is the premier material for the conversion of solar energy directly into electrical energy. They are investigating a process that uses laser irradiation to increase silicon’s absorption, thus increasing energy conversion. Black silicon was invented at Harvard about 10 years ago; research shows it could improve the efficiency of solar cells. Knize’s research team showed that black silicon could be created with less expense using nanosecond lasers and possibly continuous-wave lasers.

The Defense Department is the largest federal energy consumer, and the Air Force is the largest energy consumer in the DOD. With this understanding, faculty members here will continue to do their part to think and act locally with research that will yield benefits globally.

Photo: Glass beakers and aluminum foil mark the beginning for different breeds of algae as part of the Life Sciences Research Center’s research into harvesting algae for biofuels. (U.S. Air Force photo by Bill Evans)