FORWARD OPERATING BASE RIPLEY, Afghanistan -- When Marines on the ground need air support in central Afghanistan, there are a few good men and women who came a long way to make it happen.
The Direct Air Support Center, a communications-heavy fires and air support integration center, is manned by 36 Marines from Marine Air Support Squadron 1 (MASS-1), Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. They augmented the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) in April as they pushed into Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom.
Now the MEU and its attachments, known as Task Force Linebacker, have moved farther inland; a place where the DASC Marines know they will have an impact on combat operations.
"The Marines are fired up to help the MEU," said Maj. Mark D. Tobin, the DASC detachment officer-in-charge.
Tobin, a Scottsdale, Ariz. native, and his Marines left North Carolina with only a month to weave their capabilities with the existing MEU staff. Adding to the challenge, DASCs do not normally operate with MEUs.
According to the MEU's executive officer, Lt. Col. Joe George, there was a need to have the additional capabilities of the DASC given the MEU's sizeable area of operations. "We are conducting multiple operations within our AO (area of operations), using our aircraft and joint and coalition aircraft too," George said. George, from Norfolk, Va., added that when the MEU conducts multiple operations, the MEU commander could prioritize air support to the main effort. The DASC is the interface to get the aircraft to the right place, at the right time, and with the right equipment.
The DASC also assists with deconflicting airspace and fires from the MEU's artillery and mortars. In addition, when coalition aircraft venture to Forward Operating Base Ripley for medical evacuations or to receive fuel, the DASC can route the aircraft into the base while considering all of the different operations underway.
The DASC plays a vital air support link to the Marine or soldier on the ground and the aircraft potentially waiting in the sky. When support is needed, the DASC can look at all the aircraft operating in the region, not just the unit's inherent air support, but other coalition air assets too. They then exercise procedural control of the aircraft and direct them to a location where a forward air controller on the ground can communicate with the aircraft and guide them onto the target. Having a DASC means more options available to the Marine on the ground. The key is communication.
Communication is something the DASC knows well. Radios, computers and antennae abound, as the DASC integrated into the MEU's combat operations center. Their communications equipment ranges from High Frequency (HF) radios to satellite communications (SatCom) gear.
Private First Class Nick Pruner is an aviation radio repairman with the DASC and serves as a liaison between the operators inside the DASC and the communications equipment that links them to the maneuver units and aircraft in the region. If a radio or piece of equipment were to have problems, Pruner would make the appropriate liaison to take care of business. "Communications are good right now, so that means things are slow for me," Pruner said.
Inside the DASC, air support net operators and the air directors constantly monitor communication nets, keeping an eye on the tactical situation on the ground and in the air.
Lance Cpl. Doug Gallagher, originally from Pittsburgh, Pa., is an air support net operator and enjoys working in the DASC because it affords him the opportunity to get a better understanding of the entire operation. "We plot tracks and monitor secure chat rooms and the different radios, so we have a good idea of what is happening," said Gallagher.
Overseeing operations the leadership in the DASC is the senior air director and the crew chief. This officer-enlisted pair ensures things run smoothly. Captain Matt Hall, a senior air director, describes his job as managing airflow. "I supervise the controllers and operators working with the aircraft," said Hall. The Bucks County, Pa., native added that the job can get busy when there are multiple aircraft flying and many maneuver units on the ground. "It can be hectic, but it's also exciting," Hall mentioned.
"The 'Atlantic Nomads' from MASS-1 are doing a lot of work with the Harriers and C-130s also deployed from Cherry Point," said Tobin. The AV-8Bs and KC-130Rs are deployed in support of the 22d MEU (SOC) and are flying just about every day. "It's going well and the Marines are doing a great job," Tobin said.
The 22d MEU (SOC) is designated as Task Force Linebacker and deployed with Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn, 6th Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (Rein.) 266, and MEU Service Support Group 22. Together they are supporting combat and civil-military operations in Afghanistan in support of Combined Joint Task Force 76.