AL ASAD, Iraq -- A Marine's eyes stared intensely at the loudspeaker on the small talk-box, as a voice flowed through the static. Indirect fire had smashed into the starlit streets only moments ago, and the reaction plan was already in effect. The Marine then began relaying transmissions, setting up networks and stabilizing communications for the Tactical Air Command Center, as the air base came alive in the dark of night.
Marines with Marine Tactical Air Command Squadron 38, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, are in charge of the Tactical Air Command Center here and keep it manned full time for cases such as this.
"MTACS-38's mission is to provide the 3rd MAW (Forward) commander with a Tactical Air Command Center where he will be able to manage the 3rd MAW air assets," said Sgt. Joshua Young, air support operations operator, MTACS-38. "This is accomplished by getting liaisons from the different agencies within the 3rd MAW command and control system to man the Tactical Air Command Center and provide the commander with all pertinent information needed to effectively manage aircraft employment."
According to Lt. Col. Jeff Davis, commanding officer, MTACS-38, that's a mission that the squadron cannot accomplish by themselves.
"We need help from a lot of other units," said Davis, a Fort Worth, Texas, native. "We are part of the Marine Air Command Control System and there are a lot of people who help with that."
Help is also obtained by having Marines within the squadron with different military occupational specialties.
"The Marines of the operation's section in MTACS-38 are from various air operations' MOSs, specifically air support and air defense operations," stated Young, a Yukon, Okla., native. "We operate and manage the computer system and communications assets organic within the TACC."
Being in charge of the computer systems and communications within the TACC can be a daunting task, especially when it has to be operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"We have to make sure everything is up and running," said Sgt. Jason B. Morris, aviation communications systems technician, aviation radio, MTACS-38. "We are always checking the speaker box to make sure none of the radio nets are going down and that the operators are doing their jobs."
However, being in the desert environment of a combat zone also has certain effects on the Marines and their equipment.
"Sandstorms can affect communications big time," said the 23-year-old Morris. "It's hard for us to get communications to work with all of the stuff in the ionosphere and the atmosphere. It's hard to get radio waves to propagate through it all."
Even with the environmental issues, the Marines with MTACS-38 do their jobs and tasks without delay or lack of initiative.
"MTACS is lucky because we have a whole lot of really great Marines," said Davis. "Not just great, as far as doing their job, but great as far as their attitude and their desire to do their very best. It also helps that quite a few of them have been to Iraq before and this is their second or third time."
According to Davis, you have to appreciate that most of the Marines' jobs are done inside a building, so they have to concern themselves with how the occurrences outside of their office affect the deployment of Marine aviation.
"You have to put yourself in the place of the Marine out there, the pilot out there or the person who is out there, so that you can make good decisions based on what's going on," the commanding officer concluded. "We're inside a building with no windows and not feeling the sand itching our face, but we have to be able to understand what the Marines on the ground need and how to best support them with Marine aviation. That is the challenge."