This was a good 22 years ago and I need to set the stage a little bit: I was an Air Force Staff Sergeant (SSgt) stationed on an Army Post as part of a Tactical Air Control Party (TACP). Our officers were supposed to be fighter pilots that were temporarily grounded for a three year tour. Of course these guys hated that (anything that takes them out of a cockpit) and a metric shit-ton of bennies were tossed their way. For example they normally only had a two-year tour and they got to keep their flight pay even though they weren't flying.
As can be expected, if you sweeten the pot enough some guys will take advantage, like my Squadron Commander. This guy had figured out a way to hop from job-to-job that kept him in flight pay, while not flying, all the way from Captain to Colonel. He was also the the biggest ass-kisser and capable of talking for hours while not actually saying anything. He once held a three-day "staffing" where we had to brainstorm our unit's "mission statement" and similar philosophical bullshit. Our job was to run around with out associated Army units and call in Close Air Support. "Death on Call" was our motto and that should be good enough.
If you're not picking up on what I'm laying down let me be more blunt: I did not care for this officer and if we ever went to war I am 110% sure his incompetence would get my comrades killed despite his ability to fail upwards.
On to the main story: I supported the Division's Aviation Brigade and we were taking part in a rather large, Corps-level IIRC, computer exercise that was basically the Korean War Part II. We're far enough down the food chain that we're setup in a Tactical Operations center (TOC) in garrison, but the computer side of the exercise was largely invisible. Now an Aviation Brigade is manned by my guys with a much smaller crew than a maneuver unit, so my officer and I have to work opposite of each other in 12 hour shifts in order to accomplish he mission. It is pretty much just the Captain and myself as our airmen have been loaned out to other units so they can get better training/experience.
So we're a couple of days into this exercise and I get a call from my Squadron Commander. He's pissed that I haven't run a specific number of sorties into a given area. First I've heard of it, which was not the answer he wanted to hear. Evidently he promised the Division Commander (a General) that we'd run X number of missions in a specific spot. Now I knew that was all kinds of wrong, for several reasons I'll make clear, but obviously he didn't. My initial response was, "Sir, that area is a Free Fire Area (FFA) ringed with Air Defense Artillery (ADA), any planes we send there are NOT safe and the Army (my Aviation brigade) is avoiding that area like the plague." He responded something about how he flew into them "all the time" when he was a pilot. A quiet conversation with me not being in the TOC surrounded by Army officers would be the best way to straighten this out and I make an appropriate offer, but not good enough for the Colonel. I'm to go around to the Army Staff, interview them, and figure out exactly where the breakdown is (it's the disconnect between your ears and mouth sir) then compile said information into a formal report and have my Captain report to his office at 0900 (our change over time for the exercise manning) with the findings.
Sir, yes sir!
So I go around the TOC and informally interview the Staff and the picture that develops is that my Commander came in following a couple of Generals and a few other Colonels and the one General commented on how this FFA was being avoided and my Commander tried to play suck-up and promised 10 or 12 sorties into that area, but that he did not tell anyone else, much less my Captain who was on shift at the time. To top it off, my Commander did not know the difference between a FFA and a Kill Box, the later of which he had flown into back in Desert Storm, nearly a decade earlier.....
So basically he's willing to send a bunch of pilots off, probably to their death, BUT wait....there's more!
You see, we (the TACP/Air Force) don't just get to decide to put in a Close Air Support request. The Army makes the request to support their objectives, and depending on the timeline involved, either they send it up to higher echelon, up the Army side, or (appropriate for this situation) we send it up through Air Force channels. Either way we don't decide if that request gets filled, the Army does. The Air Force flies the sorties, but those sorties are already planned or the Army decides to divert already scheduled aircraft away from one unit to support another. This is literally day one type-stuff taught to incoming officers to a TACP.
I write the report up and nice as I can, but it's really hard to succinctly say "My Commander is an idiot who doesn't have a grasp of TACP fundamentals to include Fire Support Coordination Measures." in a nice, politically correct fashion. I'm sure there are some BS artists here capable of it, but maybe I wasn't smart or kind enough. Doesn't help that I really can't bring in my Army counterparts to help me out, even though the whole TOC knows what is going on since they were there for the walk-through and my interviews. I have to tell the Army S3 (Commander on duty) that he'll be without TACP support for the next few hours because I have to leave shift early and go to my Captain's house, hand him the written report, and brief him on what's going on and that he has a different 0900 meeting than he woke up expecting.
Luckily for me I had a great Captain and he had my back. There wasn't any real fallout, but I suspect that was because anything would have served to expose the Commander's lack of knowledge and it was best for him to sweep it under the rug.
While difficult to write, it was a fun report......
(Edit: minor grammatical fix)
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