Idaho National Guardsmen, German JTACs reinforce relationships through training

In 2015, an enlisted Idaho Air National Guardsman and a German Army lieutenant attended the same Joint Terminal Attack Controller Qualification Course and began a friendship that has had international implications for the past eight years. The two engaged in a series of conversations throughout their time at the course that resulted in a lasting partnership between the Idaho National Guard and the German military.

Master Sgt. Justin Clark, a senior airman at the time, is now a JTAC program coordinator with the 124th Air Support Operations Squadron. Clark said he immediately began looking for opportunities to bring the lieutenant’s unit to Idaho upon his return from the course. He said his unit commander’s support was key to guiding him through the process of coordinating and facilitating the German JTAC unit’s first visit to Gowen Field in the spring of 2016. The unit has returned every year since.

 “The win, where it gets better every year, is the partnership,” said Clark. “We share lessons learned, and everyone’s experience culminates to make both parties better.”

This year, soldiers and airmen from Germany’s Joint Terminal Attack Controller Competence Center partnered with the Idaho Air National Guard’s 124th Fighter Wing to conduct close air support training at the Saylor Creek and Juniper Butte Ranges, Idaho, May 1-18. Idaho Army National Guard UH-60 pilots and crew also supported portions of the training, adding another layer of realism to the German troops training and further expanding their nearly decade-long partnership. The joint training incorporated NATO tactics, techniques and procedures, utilizing A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft to prosecute targets ranging from armor, artillery, bunkers, simulated enemy combatants, moving targets, surface to air threats and more.

The visiting joint terminal attack controllers coordinate, integrate and direct the actions of combat aircraft engaging in close air support operations and joint fire observers, who augment JTACs by relaying target data. Leading them was Clark’s former classmate, Maj. Andreas Marx. Now a JTAC instructor himself, he said taking advantage of Idaho’s vast military range complex to enhance his unit’s training and further strengthen the international partnership is a win-win partnership.

“The CAS training opportunity that we have here, in conjunction with our partners from the 124th Fighter Wing is invaluable to us,” Marx said. “We do focus our training very much on large scale combat operations scenarios in the European theater of operations. Our partnership provides both sides with a common understanding and shared TTPs that will be of utmost importance during possible future conflicts with near-peer enemies.”

Located approximately 43 miles southeast of Gowen Field, Saylor Creek Range offers an impact area three miles wide by six miles long, where air and ground assets can employ live munitions.The Juniper Butte Range is located on 110,000 acres in southern Idaho and is covered with simulated hostile radar facilities, most of which are moveable electronic “threats. The range complex consists of two mock surface to air missile site targets in two strafe pits, a command site, a mock rail yard protected by two SAM sites, a radar/radio jamming tower and a range maintenance depot.

Master Sgt. Dennis Goettel, a joint fires platoon sergeant with the German Army, said the training site is unlike anything they have in Germany.

“In Germany, our soldiers never get into realistic situations like they do in Idaho because of training restrictions,” said the platoon sergeant. “It helps our soldiers to see live munitions hit their targets because then they know what they say to pilots really matters.”

 In addition to the training, 124th ASOS Airmen and their German guests participate in other military exchange activities. This year, the units completed German and ASOS physical fitness assessments, and the Germans conducted shoot-and-move 9mm pistol and M4 carbine qualification courses for the Guardsmen.

Clark said the unit is expected to return to Gowen Field for another training event in August, when it will fully integrate with the 124th ASOS to conduct full mission profiles encompassing the squadron’s focus points – shoot, move, communicate, practice combat medicine and fitness.

Youth ChalleNGe Academy breaks ground on new barracks

The Idaho Youth Challenge Academy broke ground on a new barracks building April 9 in Pierce. Representatives from the Idaho National Guard gathered for the ceremony along with staff members from Gov. Brad Little’s office.

The $13.5 million, 18,000 square foot building will replace temporary billeting facilities currently in use at the academy. The new barracks also allows for potential expansion of the program with room to house up to 180 students and cadre.

Academy Director Trevor Sparrow said building strong relationships has been an important aspect of its success and growth over the years.

“We are so grateful for the support of all of our partners around the state from the cadets who attend, their families, local businesses and communities, the Idaho State Legislature and the Governor’s office,” said Sparrow. “This building solidifies the commitment that Idaho has to ensure the Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy stands ready to ensure a legacy of excellence for decades to come.”

The Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy opened its doors in 2014 with the mission “to intervene in and reclaim the lives of at-risk youth to produce program graduates with the values, skills, education and self-disciple necessary to succeed as responsible and productive citizens and adults.” Since then, the academy’s focus on providing education and developing employment and life skills among its student body has helped more than 2,000 Idaho youth earn traditional or general education diplomas.

Maj. Gen. Michael Garshak, Idaho adjutant general and commander of the Idaho National Guard, served as the presiding official during the ceremony.

“Two thousand and seventy-five young men and women from the state of Idaho have completed this and have really improved the citizenship and the future for our state,” said Garshak. “It’s time now that we move out of a temporary facility and build permanent barracks because I think the Youth ChalleNGe Academy has demonstrated that it is here to stay.”

The project is slated to be completed in November 2025.