It’s no wonder why Air Force Special Operations Command’s motto is “First There.” The battlefield Airmen are special operations trained and FAA air traffic controllers.
Their job is to direct air traffic control, fire support, command, and control, direct action, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance, and special reconnaissance, all at the same time.
Combat controllers undergo rigorous training. After 35-weeks of training, they have earned the ability to don a scarlet beret. In addition, they learn air traffic control skills that they maintain throughout their time in the Air Force.
Combat controllers can take other certifications such as special tactics, advanced training, and free-fall parachutist school.
In 1943, the Army Pathfinders assisted in World War II when accurate airdrops were necessary. They were the first ones to head into an area before the assault forces to provide weather information and guidance for aircraft.
Ten years later, the Pathfinders assisted with navigational aids and air traffic control as the Air Force grew. During the Vietnam War, they helped with traffic flow and mission safety.
In 1944, the Air Force created glider-borne teams called Combat Control Teams. The team’s utilized visual markers, ground-to-air and point-to radios, and electronic navigational aids.
They assisted aircraft that were coming into an assault area and those flying in the air. Their duties expanded to coordinating firing in high-altitude and advising on enemy positions.
March 24, 1945, was the biggest mission for the USAAF Combat Control Team and would test their abilities. In the first airborne assault on the Nazis, eight Air Force teams were infiltrating across the Rhine.
During Operation Varsity, 16,000 paratroopers were delivered into the area using thousands of aircraft.
After WWII, the Combat controllers have been a part of many different operations worldwide, from the Congo to the Dominican Republic.
War On Terror
In operation Desert Shield, the controllers were in charge of air traffic control, air-to-ground operations, and assault actions leading to Kuwait’s liberation from Iraq. They were also a part of the humanitarian effort for the Kurdish refugees.
The Combat Controllers have also been heavily involved in the War on Terror. Seven Air Force Crosses were awarded from 2001 on, and five of them went to Combat Controllers.
To this day, the Combat Controllers help with direct action intervention, international emergencies, and humanitarian relief efforts.