Sunday, September 20, 2009
Well, apologies for not getting to the comments on the last post, or doing much of anything else since then, but I've spent the last week and a half scrambling to deal with a new assignment of mine that popped up a little unexpectedly. My next deployment will not be as a helicopter pilot, but as a forward air controller (FAC), responsible for putting steel on target in direct support of the grunts. I'll be heading to Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) school in October, and then shortly after that reporting to the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines up in lovely 29 Palms (what's 29 Palms like, you may ask? Let's see: it's a place so desolate that back in the day, the Army decided to close it because it wasn't fit for human occupation. So the Marines bought it at a discount, and it's now about as close a facsimile to a Middle Eastern desert as you can get. The only thing missing is sandstorms. It's the only part of California not susceptible to wildfires because nothing grows there to burn).
How did this all come to pass, you might ask? Well, that story is best left unpublished, lest the public lose faith and confidence in its Marine Corps. The short version is my name was selected for this tour while we were still in Iraq, but no one got around to actually telling me, so I got to find out last Monday from my wife, who heard it from another wife, who heard it from another wife of a pilot who was already on a FAC tour and hadn't been in the squadron for over a year. Not the preferred method. You think I was pissed over this chain of events, you should've seen Bree. I've hidden all my guns, knives, forks, barbeque tools and garden hose to keep her from doing something extreme. It's perfectly understandable though; to say that this whole thing was mishandled would be a gross understatement.
Anyway, no use in crying over now, it's happening, so here's what it entails. I'm sure all of you have seen footage of smart bombs getting dropped on houses and the bad guys therein; what's not shown on the video is the guy who calls the aircraft in on the radio and feeds the pilots the correct information to make sure the right house is hit and in a timely fashion. That's the job of the forward air controller, to be the link between Marine air and Marine ground-pounders. And all FACs are Marine pilots, since aviation has a completely separate vocabulary from the ground side and making sure the fighter or Cobra pilot who's about to unleash hate and discontent from the air knows where to put it and how to put it there is vital. To give you some idea of how this ground-to-air liaison unfolds, see below (try not to laugh too hard, the instructions being passed by the guy on the radio are actually fairly realistic):
So, in sum, apart from the fact that I'd be calling in F-18s and Cobras, not A-10s and AC-130s,
that I'd be dressed in a flak jacket and Kevlar helmet instead of a sleeveless muscle shirt, and
that my targets would be enemy soldiers and positions and not a robotic scorpion from
Cybertron, this is pretty much what I'll do. And I probably won't end up doing it for real at all,
since the current deployment order is for 1/7 to putter around the Pacific on the 31st MEU, so
unless Guam starts getting uppity I'll be fairly bored. More updates on all of this as I get them,
since matters are still unfolding day by day. And possibly more Transformers videos too :).