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Addendum to NC PATCON8 AAR

I thought it would be helpful to provide a real-world addendum as background for the 8th NC PATCON AAR, and to illustrate a situation similar to that pointed out by Bill Buppert in a recent article. In this article, he mentions the way one German general on the Eastern front would arrange air support. This general knew the general in charge of air, and would just call the air commander on the telephone and say they were attacking village A at 10 in the morning, and would he like to help. The air commander would say "of course" and that was it. Very little formal process at that level. Bombs would fall until 10AM while the armored column approached, and then precisely at that time the bombs would stop and the armored column would enter the village. Underneath that simple conversation is an enormous amount of delegation and process.

Similarly, here is a sample of what high-level encrypted USMC command and control nets sound like, or at least did in Desert Storm circa 1991:

Situation: a medevac is required for a ground Forward Air Controller, callsign Goalpost, but due to smoke obscuration over the airfield and other factors, the only real option is help from the Navy offshore, an unconventional circumstance that isn't anticipated in the op order. A Navy strike package is passing through the airspace, including an E-2 Hawkeye C&C, code-named Spoonfed. I am O2B (1stLt, last name Baugh), social callsign Toad, assigned as Senior Air Director in the Direct Air Support Center (Airborne), agency callsign Chieftain, riding in a comm box in the back of a KC-130. Spoonfed had been coordinating with my Tactical Air Director (TAD) on our Marine air control coordination frequency while in transit, first inbound, and now outbound. I listen in, and then hold up a finger to the TAD so I can talk. Everything you read below is encrypted. Al Jaber is now well to the rear of the actual fighting. We have no radars or fancy displays, just paper, maps and voices on the radio.

Me: "Spoonfed, this is Chieftain Actual Oscar Two Bravo, over." (mangling the Actual label a little, technically there is a Lt.Col. who is the administrative CO who writes fitness reports, but I am in operational control of the DASC(A) at the time. This is cleared up by the O2B part.)

I make a little wave and make eye contact with my Helicopter Director (HD), hold my little finger and thumb up to my mouth and ear, respectively, pull my little finger back in leaving only my thumb to my ear, and then point to the TAD and hold up three fingers to signify the relevant net. HD flips the TAD's third frequency to listen-only in his headset while he continues working on his own helo traffic.

E2: "Oscar Two Bravo, this is Spoonfed, over."

Me: "Spoonfed, I need a critical medevac helo vicinity Al Jaber, could you ask Zulu Whiskey for me?" ZW owns all Navy air assets in the operational area. This kind of medevac is not on their list of jobs, nor are they particularly trained or equipped for it.

E2: "Roger Oscar Two Bravo, checking, standby." With good comm and crypto, you can hear when they have released the push-to-talk.

Short delay while separate net is working. I make eye contact with the DASC crew chief, point to the medevac form on his desk, then put my finger to the FAC's callsign with one hand and then to my headset with the other, and again point to the TAD and hold up three fingers. Crew chief nods and starts talking to his VHF radio operator, known as the TAR operator, who takes joint tactical air requests (JTARs) and who originally spoke with the FAC's radio operator. The crew chief directs the TAR operator to fill in the FAC team on what we're trying to put together and to get the actual FAC up on the TAD net I'm using.

E2: "Oscar Two Bravo, are you Toad?"

Me: "Toad here."

E2: "Toad this is Hairnet, Oscar Two Echo." It turns out that the guy I am talking to onboard the E2 is someone I know from the Naval Academy. He and I are now communicating on a different level since we both understand the Navy Air Command and Control system and personalities involved. He now knows that I know that I am making more of a political request that could ruffle feathers but so be it.

Me: "Roger Hairnet."

E2: "Toad, back in a few, my boss can make this work."

Me: "Thanks, Toad out."

He works his side, I work mine. A minute or so passes, the TAD keeps handling Marine air support packages checking in and out. The TAR operator gives the FAC a brief of a possible inbound Navy flight for the medevac over the VHF TAR net and gets the FAC to listen on the TAD net also per my last hand signal. Since everyone but the FAC is in the air, the UHF is working fine for everyone. During a lull in the normal TAD work, the FAC makes a single call on the TAD net:

FAC: "Ggggoallllpostuhhh." Spoken in the nasal tone of a man used to talking while pulling Gs, so we are hearing from the FAC himself, and in a manner which shows he is announcing his presence, not expecting to talk to anyone. The E2 should have heard this also, I will confirm in a bit.

E2 returns:

E2: "Toad, Hairnet."

Me: "Hairnet go."

E2: "Navy Sierra Hotel Six Zero, callsiiiiiign uhhhh Lumberjack, one five mikes, will go feet dry point Texas." The drawn-out nature gives me time to write or start writing while keeping the mike and crypto open, something I still accidentally do in normal conversation and when giving presentations. The crew chief is also listening and writing to make sure I don't miss it. The Navy part indicates political sensitivity, not armed, and thus to be protected with all care. According to the Navy, all Navy and Marine aircraft belong to them; the Navy just loans planes and helos to the Marines, who then do their best to break them and get them shot up instead of using them to protect the carriers at all costs. The budgeting process agrees. The FAC, being a Marine fixed wing pilot, is also a naval aviator himself, has flown onto and from carriers, lived on them against his will, and understands Navy air politics more than me. Texas is the air control point the pilot will use to enter Marine airspace from seaward. We would normally tell them where to enter, but in this case they can take their pick, we'll make it work. While Hairnet is talking the crew chief is pointing out the locations on the map. I look at the HD and tilt my head to the side as if asking a question. HD nods and is already talking to other helo pilots to help them clear the route.

Me: "Thanks Hairnet, do you know Marine Tatsy Five?" I am asking him if he has the frequency for USMC tactical air traffic control frequency five (TATC-5) for the helo handoff via my HD and the FAC. He is more likely to have my frequencies than the FAC's frequencies since his only interaction with Marine air on this mission is passing through our airspace on the way to his target deep in Iraq.

E2: "Standby, checking uhhhhhh back in one, standby." He can't find it right away. He has the comm plan in a binder somewhere, but probably just had notes on his kneepad for the frequencies he expected to use.

FAC: "Goalpost copies." His radio operator is already punching TATC-5 into his UHF from the comm plan.

TAD keeps handling Marine packages. About a minute later:

E2: "Toad, Hairnet has Marine Tatsy Fiivvve." With an air of triumph like he just defeated a small nation, punctuating the last three words, meaning he has it punched in.

Me: "Roger Hairnet, comm check in one on Tatsy Five with Chieftain and customerrrrrrrr GoalllPost uhhhhh now listening. Push Lumberjack direct to Tatsy Five callsign Goalpost when inbound point Texas, Chieftain will copy and clear route." Confirmed all aspects of the plan with everyone, cueing Goalpost to confirm after Hairnet. Crew chief is again pointing first to point Texas on the map, and then to the medevac location he had previously plotted, HD is nodding.

E2: "Will do, Toad."

FAC: "Goalpost copies, thanks Toad, Hairnet."

E2: "No problem fellas, have a nice day. Hairnet out."

Me: "Toad out."

They both switch over to TATC-5 and verify that the Navy indeed has the correct frequency. The HD gives a thumb's up while doing his comm check with them.

After this more or less informal coordination, the rest of the process then runs as normal using normal radio procedures over on TATC-5 and the TAR net.

Learning points:

- The op orders or comm plans cannot possibly anticipate everything. Desert Storm was planned in detail for months, and most of that went out the window the first day of the ground war when the ground combat element started driving through all their objectives in hours instead of days.
- Since the medevac needed a political solution, and the landing area was (relatively) secure, I gave Al Jaber by name over the encrypted net instead of with a codename that the Navy might not have, or using coordinates that they might not actually plot until later. Everyone on the Navy side needed to know that they were going into an area where everything in sight was mottled tan and light brown with black rifles, not blue with gray floaters.
- The detailed mechanical processes (doctrine) are for handling the large number of things that are according to plan. When unusual things arrive, sometimes you just need to talk through it.
- The semi-aristocratic, genteel "thank yous" and "I need", and the personal callsigns, let everyone know that we're all working on a political solution to save a man's life, and that extra oomph will be needed to make it come together outside of doctrine.
- The personal callsigns and the conversational tone on a high-level encrypted net also indicate that some of the principals are working on something critical. The more routine traffic knows to wait, and that the wait will not be long.
- The amount of hand-signaling in a command center is often a surprise since people could just talk to each other. But, that could degenerate into everyone trying to talk at once. A DASC, like many well-disciplined command and control centers, is actually a pretty quiet place, with the talking reserved for those people who are on the radio, or else the officers and crew chief planning how to handle things, and even then usually huddled together almost whispering if someone else, like the lance corporal TAR operator, is trying to listen to an incoming request.
- In this unusual case, I am authorizing the handoff to the FAC, not on his usual UHF channels, but on one of my nets, so that we can keep our thumb on the pulse of what is going on. This will prevent this special case from falling through the cracks, and allow the HD to help other Marine helos who are listening understand that the Navy is sending a care package that may not be familiar with how Marine pilots routinely and informally deconflict themselves.
- I'm avoiding having all these parties switching nets too many times and causing a Chinese fire drill because someone fingered the frequencies wrong. When in crisis, keep it simple.
- I'm also taking personal responsibility for this process to show I am committed to it getting done, only delegating once the deal has a handshake.
- There is still process, but only because we are still using radios and not just talking on the phone. The informal stuff then produces a formal result a layer below, just like the internal orders of the German ground and air generals, respectively.

How does this apply to a militia operation in a crisis? Substitute "adjacent militia unit" or "Sheriff's office" for "Navy"; "doctor" or "deputy" or "ambulance" for "Navy SH60"; "PATCON" or "Chamber of Commerce" for "Naval Academy" (or "officer's club"); "TOC" for "DASC"; and "found an injured pregnant woman giving birth" for "FAC medevac", and you will see that you will encounter many of these issues yourselves, and will need to remain flexible when you find that your doctrine has unexpected holes in it.

Semper Gumby
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