NAMEST AIR BASE, Czech Republic -- The first week of live training at Ramstein Rover 2012 ended Sept. 16.
RARO 12 is a NATO exercise focused on preparing forward air controllers to support ground commanders in Afghanistan within the next year.
Multiple nations are participating, including the U.S., Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Turkey, Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland, Norway, the Netherlands, Latvia, Italy, Greece, Germany, France, Estonia and Belgium, in an effort to improve and build common tactics, techniques and practices.
Throughout the week, the 81st Fighter Squadron from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany provided close air support to forward air controllers, with whom the squadron's pilots are likely to deploy.
"Seeing how all these nations operate and helping them develop to be better (joint terminal attack controllers), all while they make us better pilots for close air support, has prepared us to go downrange together," said Capt. Patrick Shanahan, 81st FS A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot.
Forward air controllers worked directly with pilots to establish threats and targets to attack on the ground while mitigating risks to what would be civilians and their property.
"The scenarios were very well scripted, which was great for everyone," said Lt. Col. Clinton Eichelberger, 81st FS commander. "I'm sure it's great for the JTACs who are learning things, and it's great for the flyers, because they're able to see the extremes of guys who are brand new and those who are experienced with forward air controllers. For the training aspect, it's unbelievable, because we go to an area that's not too far from the base and integrate with helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and different countries."
Close air support, which is the A-10's primary mission, also played an important role in forward air control training by giving ground commanders more support in defeating enemy targets by providing more firepower and a greater view of the area, much like they would in a contingency operation.
"I've learned a lot from the experience to work with other nations. ... The main thing I've learned is that we have to be 100 percent sure of what we expect from one another," said Czech Republic army Lt. Jan Holicek, ground forces tank platoon leader. "It's important we cooperate."
With the first week of training complete, pilots of the 81st FS are ready to accomplish more goals and build more common practices with their NATO counterparts.
"From the first day, what we wanted to accomplish was to improve the ability of the JTACs to call in air and support the ground commander," said Eichelberger. "And just by being able to talk to them day after day, you notice that they grab a hold of the debrief points you hand them. The next day they execute their tasks that much better."
RARO 12 continues until Sept. 22, during which these nations will keep building common practices to use in support of combatant commanders.