By 1st Lt Eric Miller, 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron
/ Published October 02, 2008
2 October 2008 --
As more and more Air Battle Managers from the 552nd Air Control Wing are needed to fill Air Liaison Officer (ALO) billets, it is interesting to take a look at the origins of the ALO position and its impact on the ABM rated career field.
ALOs were first used in WWII before Operation COBRA, the Allied breakout into Normandy in July 1944. The commander of the IX Tactical Air Command, Major General Elwood "Pete" Quesada, pulled qualified pilots from tactical fighter squadrons to act as forward air controllers, in tanks directly on the front lines.
Army tank commanders had the ability to communicate with other tank commanders using a SCR-528 radio. General Quesada saw this as an opportunity to put an Air Force liaison officer in a tank, give him a modified SCR-528 radio, and ultimately give him the ability to talk to P-47 pilots in the air. The effects of this were two-fold, enabling the tank commanders to have P-47 "spies" to see what was up ahead; and secondly, when a tank needed close air support, the ALO could vector the pilot in, which also essentially eliminated the constant concern of fratricide.
With this seemingly simple improvement, General Quesada completely revolutionized the way air power was conducted, creating the position of the ALO. The dividends from this solution were quickly felt over the following days and weeks of the war, as ALOs were now equipped to call in precise air strikes on enemy formations using the language that pilots were trained to understand.
Since WWII, the role of the ALO has gone through significant changes. With the inception of the Joint Terminal Air Controllers (JTACs) who provide the majority of direct control of aircraft, the ALO has taken on more of a liaison role. Still embedded with the Army commander, the ALO equips the commander with expertise on aircraft capabilities, ordinance capabilities, and the best direction for attack. These ALO positions are filled with aeronautically rated officers who spend a tour away from flying to serve as the primary advisor to Army commanders.
When ABMs became rated officers in 1999, they became eligible to become ALOs. Even though ABMs receive their aeronautical rating, only a handful of ALO spots have been filled by ABMs until just recently. This past year, ABMs received a much higher number of ALO billets, 25 in total. The summer cycle of 2009 has that number increasing by 50 percent. Lt. Col. Craig MacLeod, Deputy Commander of Training for the 552d Operations Group, conveyed the importance of this opportunity for the 13B career field when he said, "the ALO position is a real growth industry for the ABM." Colonel MacLeod is a liaison for the ABM community here at Tinker AFB to the Air Force Personnel Center (AFPC) for assignments. He explained further saying, "it's a perfect second assignment for an ABM, because they are looking for young qualified controllers, and it gives the ABM another great look at air power from a different perspective."
The tours range from one to three years away from flying, depending on whether the assignment is in the continental United States, outside the United States, or a remote tour. The three year CONUS tours provide both a stable station length, and allow ABMs to PCS to locations that may be closer to home than where they would normally be stationed as an ABM. Some of the CONUS tours include Fort Lewis, Fort Riley, Fort Stewart, and Shaw Air Force Base. The two year tours outside of the US include Wheeler Field, Hawaii, Wiesbaden, Germany, and Mannheim, Germany. There are also a few remote opportunities in the Republic of Korea.
When a new ALO gets to the assigned unit, the soon-to-be ALO must attend a short three to four week ALO qualification course (ALOQC) or Air Support Ops Center (ASOC) IQC. The ALO qualification course description can be found on the Nellis Air Force Base, 6th Combat Training Squadron's web page. It states that the course is designed to prepare USAF officers for full-time duty as air liaison officers to US Army maneuver units, by training concepts, doctrine, procedures and techniques for integrating combat firepower in joint operations, with a heavy emphasis on the responsibilities of an Air Liaison Officer, responsibilities as a leader in a Tactical Air Control Party (TACP), and responsibilities representing the Joint Force Air Component Commander as a member of an Army war-fighting staff.
General Quesada's revolutionary decision, almost 65 years ago, is just another way that the US military is constantly improving by integrating into a joint warfare mindset. Since 1999, when ABMs became rated officers, and even more now as a greater number of billets are being filled by ABMs, they stand closer and closer to the tip of the spear in that joint mindset. Colonel MacLeod concluded by saying, "this is an extremely important opportunity that ABMs are now filling. We are fighting a ground war, and the ALO position is directly involved in delivering air power where the ground forces need it, when they need it."