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Combat Control team

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United States Air Force special operations command (AFSOC) specialists, who go into ground battle with the lead elements of parachuting or heliborne infantry, are called combat control teams. The Teams contain various specialties, but they are intended to support ground troops by putting specialized knowledge of air warfare techniques side-by-side with them. The true combat controller is a qualified air traffic controller with additional military training; there are other AFSOC specialists that also may be on the ground with infantry.

For most missions, there will be a small team of combat controllers, so, for example, one can maintain the area map and schedules while another gives directions by radio. If themission is one where there will not be additional aircraft following to bring in more forces, a single combat controller might accompany an Army team doing special reconnaissance on an enemy airfield or a potential friendly aircraft site.

Airmen who wear the scarlet beret have gone through air traffic controller training and are certified in that skill by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates civilian air traffic control and safety. In addition, however, they have gone through Army basic and advanced parachuting schools, as well as Air Force survival, special operations, and diving (SCUBA and rebreather) schools.

Their skills are complementary to Army Pathfinder specialists. As a quick distinction, the pathfinder lands before the main helicopter, transport aircraft, or parachute force. He surveys the area for hazards and for good landing areas, and both marks them and radios information to the force in the air. Where the Army Pathfinder is the expert on the actual ground, the Combat Controller is the specialist in directing in both transport and fire support aircraft. The last category means that such individuals are competent forward air controllers.

Both Pathfinders and Combat Controllers can set up navigational aids, although the Army specialist tends to be more the expert on aids for parachutists and helicopters, while the Air Force specialist is more attuned to the needs of transport and high-performance aircraft.

Combat Controllers also have a detailed knowledge of airfield construction, so they can advise Air Force bare-base airfield construction and airfield repair personnel as to what is needed to create a usable airstrip. Combat controllers also have substantial skill in directing close air support.

The role of determining airfield requirements is also appropriate for special reconnaissance (SR), where there are no immediate followup troops. A SR team should arrive and leave without being detected, and bring back information, such as where a behind-the-lines airfield could be built.

There are other AFSOC specialists whose work is done on the ground, including combat weathermen, rescue parajumpers, and additional resources for military air traffic control and deconfliction.