by Brian Ansley
The Air National Guard always provides support for Spartan Race at our events. They are also seeking out Spartans interested in serving their country, while receiving some great benefits in the process! Spartan Race recently shared a story with its readers about two Washington Air National Guardsmen in Afghanistan. Senior Airman Michael McAffrey and Technical Sergeant Tavis Delaney were two Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, or JTACs, from the 116th Air Support Operations Squadron. JTACs have a bit of a different job description than a traditional airman. A JTAC is assigned to an army unit and is required to conduct such tasks as controlling attack aircrafts from a forward position and directing the action of combat aircrafts engaged in close air support, in addition to other offensive air operations. They are the eyes on the ground for the air support.
Senior Airman McAffrey and Technical Sergeant Delaney were set to conduct a mission on May 25, 2011 in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan. The two airmen were going to be operating with 40 soldiers from the 133rd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Ironman, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Red Bulls. In addition, they were provided 20 additional Afghan Troops for assistance. The intelligence reports that they were given had suggested that the district center had been overrun. The only way to reach the area was by helicopter, and even then, the landing zone conditions were far from suitable. There were canyons on either side, which makes a unit very susceptible to ambush.
According to McAffrey, “As soon as we got off the helicopters, we started taking fire from every direction … rocket propelled grenades, AK-47, machine guns, and mortars. They held all the high ground surrounding the landing zone.” Task Force Red Bulls returned suppressive fire while the two airmen worked vigorously to call in immediate support so they could seek cover, and get everybody out of the landing zone. Once the first round of bombs came in from Naval and Air Force strike aircraft, the U.S. and Afghan forces were able to seek cover close by. The Taliban directly targeted the two JTAC members out on the battlefield. Airman McAffrey recalls, “Every time Sergeant Delaney lifted his foot, a bullet kicked up dust in the footprint he had just left.” Heavy fighting between the insurgents and coalition forces raged on for the next 6 hours. The two airmen continued to call in air support from fixed wing and rotary wing aircrafts throughout the entire battle. At one point, the enemy had come within 200 meters of the JTAC team. Thanks to the incredible composure of this Washington Air National Guard Team and the support of their counterparts, there was not one coalition force casualty as a result of this battle. “We were very lucky,” said Tech. Sgt. Delaney. Several army soldiers came up to the airmen the day after the battle on their forward operating base in Afghanistan to thank them personally. “Those Soldiers words,” Delaney said, “are the highest compliment you could ever pay one of our JTACs.”