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RAF MILDENHALL, England — The battle in Iraq is complex and success can turn on the definition of a word, said Air Force Col. Ken Dorner, deputy director of the Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar.

So, when Army troops on the ground ask for air support of a certain type, the request is “decoded” by soldiers working within the combined operations center.

“We speak two different languages,” Dorner said in a telephone interview. “Words have very different meanings.”

For the past year, the job of explaining soldier lingo to Air Force officials preparing air support in Iraq and Afghanistan has fallen to the Army’s 19th Battlefield Coordination Detachment out of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where it is embedded with the 32nd Air Operations Center.

“It’s a pretty big challenge,” said U.S. Army Col. Jim Waring, commander of the 19th BCD, in a telephone interview. “At any given time, there are 20 ground operations in [Operation Iraqi Freedom] and 15 in [Operation Enduring Freedom] with air support.

“Every troop on the ground, if he can get that air power, he wants it.”

The 19th BCD, which will return to Germany in mid-September and be replaced by the 1st BCD out of Fort Bragg, N.C., has handled about 15,000 requests for air support during its time in the Combined Air Operations Center, Waring said.

The BCD’s task is to ensure the flying service understands what the ground pounders are requesting.

For example, troops on the ground may ask the Air Force to “disrupt” an enemy threat, Dorner said. Such a word doesn’t exist in the Air Force lexicon, but it has a specific meaning — to render incapable of operating without destroying — for the Army.

“What would happen if you didn’t do the right thing?” Dorner said. “You could apply too much force or not enough force.”

It is a gentle balance, at times, he said, to not alienate the local population with an overwhelming show of force that might not be necessary.

Waring said the process starts with an air support request from the Army commander on the ground. That moves up Army channels to the theater command where all of a day’s requests are considered and prioritized.

When the requests reach the battlefield detachment in the combined operations center, they already have been approved.

Waring’s people ensure that the Air Force understands what exactly is being requested.

“The Army requests the capability and the Air Force identifies the best platform for that requirement,” Waring said.

Battlefield coordination detachments have been around only since the 1980s, Waring said. His unit began as the U.S. Army Europe liaison to U.S. Air Forces in Europe and became a battlefield coordination element in the early 1990s.

The name was changed again before the end of the decade. The Army has only four battlefield coordination detachments, Waring said, although a fifth one is about to stand up at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.

The ongoing effort is the first sustained use of the BCD concept, Waring said.

“This is an ideal opportunity to validate the way we train our BCDs and how we equip them,” he said.


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