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December 9, 2005While battlefield airmen have been serving in ground combat for years, Operation Enduring Freedom shone a light on their unique capabilities as never before.

SMSgt. Robert Hicks is a veteran Joint Terminal Attack Controller (the term was Enlisted Terminal Attack Controller), who served in Gulf War I in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Speaking with the Daily Report at the Pentagon on Dec. 8, 2005, Hicks emphasized that in just the last few years, there’s been a significant increase in the importance of the JTAC career field. As a result, the field has gotten an influx of new personnel and new equipment.

Hicks said the equipment and technology has improved by “leaps and bounds.” Instead of three separate radios, now JTACs use one radio and have satellite communication capability.

Among the technology advances, he said, that have enhanced the battlefield airman’s capability in the field is the addition of ROVER technology. JTACs equipped with Remote Operation Video Enhanced Receivers can download real-time video imagery from various aircraft. 

Today, JTACs also typically travel with laser and infrared designators and range finders. Hicks said the terminal attack controllers now have IR pointers, laptop-driven digital flight orders, IR strobes, and M148 backpack radios at their disposal. The new equipment, he noted, helps them stay maneuverable in tight situations and better communicate objectives with pilots and flight controllers.

However, he maintained that there is still need for improvement. He said that some JTACs still are carrying up to 135 pounds of equipment on their backs.

Every combat-proven JTAC has war stories, and Hicks is no exception. He can talk about the times he called in close air support, with the aircraft striking targets within only two to three kilometers of his team’s location. He recalled that often the aircraft—whether AC-130, B-1B, A-10s, or others—would only need to “show up and didn’t need to drop bombs.” Their mere presence in the area proved an asset.

But Hicks explained that his time in Afghanistan also included working with his Army teammates to extend a helping hand to Afghanis in the border region between the southeastern portion of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said that Army medics would go out to villages and set up first aid stations, often conducting routine medical exams. Hicks said village leaders invited his team several times to come and dine on goat and various other foods. “The food is very interesting,” he recalled.

“It’s a great culture, I really learned a lot from the Afghan people,” he added. “The experience is awesome. … I would never trade the experience ever.”