TF Shooter’s TOC monitors battle space on the ground, in the air
JALALABAD, Afghanistan – With U.S. Army Task Force Shooter’s flying mission, soldiers in the TF’s tactical operation center must stay focuses around the clock to ensure mission success in their battle space – something they do well according to the unit’s executive officer.
“The soldiers working in the tactical operations center are hidden heroes. They won’t earn a combat action badge or an air medal for what they do, but they make sure that everyone receives the information they need to survive on the battlefield,” said 1st Lt. Katherine Robinson, executive officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Shooter, 10th Mountain Division, Task Force Falcon.
U.S. Army Spc. Brian Sanchez and Sgt. David Agosto review information received in the tactical operations center for Task Force Shooter, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, TF Falcon. Sanchez, of El Paso, Texas, is learning the intricacies of the battle noncommissioned officer position from Agosto, a native of Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class J.R. Williams)
“It’s a job that needs complete focus,” said Robinson. “You’re tracking so many different sources of information. You have to track what’s going on in several different areas simultaneously, but you also have to understand and verify that information before passing it on.”
Nearly 30 soldiers make up the TF Shooter tactical operations center. The TOC of any unit requires continuous observation, coordination and management. Each subsection within the TOC monitors an element of the mission, providing information to the soldiers in the field while keeping the rest of the TOC updated on progress. Basically, these soldiers guide their fellow Soldiers on the battlefield through a mission.
The TF Shooter’s flying mission adds another dimension to the job because the soldiers who receive the information from the TOC fly in helicopters above the battlefield.
“You have to really understand the missions our pilots do, their mission briefs, how to translate information from the ground to the air,” said U.S. Army Sgt. David Agosto, battle noncommissioned officer for TF Shooter from Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. “Then, you have to keep track of all the different moving pieces.”
Pilots rely on the TOC during all aspects of their mission.
"I cannot understate the importance of the effective TOC operations in this dynamic environment,” said U.S. Army Maj. Jaysen Yochim of Newhall, Calif., an AH-64D Apache helicopter pilot who also serves as the operations section officer-in-charge. “Whether it is responding to a troops-in-contact, coordinating for a medevac that requires armed escort, or re-synchronizing a VIPs mission itinerary, the TOC does it all."
The battle captain maintains line-of-sight communications for each section, provides the overall battle picture for the team and offers input on the fluid tempo of operations. The battle NCO assists the battle captain by managing shifts, schedules, equipment, details and maintaining that clear picture of the battlefield. As U.S. Army Spc. Brian Sanchez of El Paso, Texas, discovered, the TOC soldiers have to learn their role quickly to keep up.
“It’s behind the scenes work, but we’re really the first responders,” said Sanchez, a battle NCO. “We immediately go into action-mode to figure out how we can help.”
Not only does the action take place behind the scenes, it lasts for hours. The TF Shooter TOC soldiers agree there’s no such thing as a regular shift.
“Even at the end of a normal shift, it takes at least 20 minutes to brief the next battle NCO,” said Agosto. “Most times, there’s too much going on to just hand off, so you hang around to make sure everyone knows what’s going on. When I feel that they’re ready to completely take over, then I go.”
“You can easily work more than 14 hours on a shift,” said Sanchez. “You have to make sure your replacement knows what’s going on in the fight.”
“We don’t even leave to eat. A runner brings back to-go boxes from the chow hall for everyone. So, we eat around each other and you become a family,” said Robinson. “But, that’s what makes it so great!”
Due to the sensitive nature of the work, the TOC is mostly self-contained. Few Soldiers outside of the section come through the work area, even if they belong to the unit. The dimensions of the work space also keep everyone working in close proximity.
“When you spend all that time in a 6-by-6 space, and you have to learn to communicate with each other, you kind of become family,” said Sanchez.
According to Agosto, the outcome for the people of Afghanistan makes the long hours and demanding responsibilities worthwhile.
“In my personal opinion ... (the Afghan people) need our help. The democracy we enjoy back home doesn’t exist here. Almost everything here is settled with violence. (The TOC is) not an easy job, but if it changes things, it’s worth it,” said Agosto.
Robinson said the satisfaction at the end of the day comes from the humble soldiers she works with during those long hours.
“These guys work so hard to make sure that everyone gets what they need. Even if you praise them for what they do they shrug it off as just doing their job,” Robinson. “But they’re the heartbeat of the squadron.”