HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
One of the greatest advantages coalition forces have against insurgents in Afghanistan is close-air support.
Close-air support provides fires to destroy, disrupt, suppress, fix, harass, neutralize or delay enemy forces through the use of fixed-wing aircraft and attack helicopters. When Marines are in contact with the enemy, someone must be able to communicate with available pilots for an aerial assault to be effective.
The Fire Support Team, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), is the link between 1st MLG (Fwd) units and the support in the sky.
“For MLG, our mission is to provide fire support for convoys or engineer operations throughout Helmand Province,” said Sgt. Jonathan Broadnax, Joint Terminal Attack Controller, FST, 1st MLG (Fwd). “We do that by utilizing aircraft that provide close-air support, route reconnaissance, armed escort and intelligence.”
The role of the JTAC is to direct the action of combat aircraft engaged in close-air support and other air operations. Throughout combat logistics patrols, the JTAC communicates with the battlespace owner of each area the patrol covers to ensure each unit has accurate, up-to-date information.
In addition to being able to call for air support, the FST also handles casualty evacuations and sets up landing zones. As a specially trained team, the FST fills a consulting role for the convoy commanders of the units they escort and the responsibilities of aerial requests during the patrol.
“We’re the key people who advise the CC of how they should best utilize their fire assets,” said Broadnax. “It takes a lot of burden off the pilots who are supporting us as well as the convoy commanders to know there is a specific team for this role. It gives them the security of knowing that if they drop that bomb, the [coordinates are] right, or if a medical evacuation is called in, that the landing zone is secured.”
When a unit requests support from the FST, the four-man team attaches to the combat logistics patrol and participates in the movement to and from their objective.
“I help the JTAC out with surface-to-surface fires such as mortars, artillery and HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System),” said Cpl. Delfino Martinez, Joint Fires Observer, FST, 1st MLG (Fwd). “Being able to support different units offers a different experience [on] every mission.”
The team has escorted 1st MLG (Fwd) units from engineer support battalions, combat logistics battalions, and the General Support Motor Transport Company during resupply missions, fuel runs and engineer projects.
“When we were supporting the construction of route Tiffany, we held a static position and controlled aircraft, tasking them to provide aerial security to the Marines on the ground building the road,” said Broadnax. “We also had artillery illumination missions through most nights to deter the enemy and give more light for the ground troops to see around them.”
Each member of the small team comes from a different occupational background and brings a specific area of expertise to the group.
“Everyone [has] a certain skill set that contributes to mission accomplishment,” said Martinez. “We’re a well rounded team.”