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A Golden Ticket Tour with Tactical Air Control Specialist in the N. C. Air National Guard

  • Published
  • By by Staff Sgt. Laura J. Montgomery
  • 145th Airlift Wing

Akin to touring Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, wide-eyed Chase Riddell, junior reserves officer’s training corps senior student with East Mecklenburg High School, shadows 2nd Lt. Nathan Closen, tactical air control party specialist with the 118th Air Support Operations Squadron in Stanly County, N.C. Dec. 4th, 2017.

Riddell, a well-rounded student with interests in musical instruments and his swim team, was prompted to shadow a job of interest for his high school senior project.

“I’m putting in my application for the Air Force Academy; I actually shadowed someone last year from the N.C. Air National Guard and was able to take a ride in a C-130 [Hercules aircraft] it was pretty amazing,” stated Riddell.

2nd Lt. Closen, who just returned from a five-month training stint, guided Riddell throughout his moderately-staffed office introducing him to any team members he could find, and briefed him on his daily routine as the joint tactical air control manager. Like the elusive Oompa Loompas, most of the specialists were out for training, and as is evident from the various collections of foreign trinkets spread around offices, this is the norm. Lesson one for Riddell: travel is a must.

As we descended stairs towards the simulator, off limits to cameras, we quietly entered the dark room, full of joysticks, monitors, and a giant glowing screen that enveloped the users. The graphics were life-like and displayed a scene much like what a tactical air control party specialist might run into regularly. Although we didn’t stay long, it was evident Riddell was curious to try it out.

“You can even fly the planes like a real plane, this will be linked on a network with other simulators from different locations. You’re actually talking to a real person over the net or radio who is seeing the same simulator but in a cock-pit; it’s really cool,” stated 2nd Lt. Closen.

We then briefly stopped in front of a wall with high-frequency radio equipment which included Vietnam War era gadgets. As we maneuvered inside the equipment and supply room, we made our way around an abundance of medical supplies where 2nd Lt. Closen began to explain the different items and their uses in complete medical jargon. While it is pertinent that their duties rely on tactical warfare, they must also know, in great detail, how and when to address medical injuries sustained in battle. Lesson two for Riddell: Always train like it’s the real deal.

“I just got back from a course last week when I was TDY [temporary duty] was it last week? I’m gone so much, but we went over how to do a crike [cricothyrotomy], which is what we do if someone can’t breathe and their airway is constricted; you take this little blade and you make a slit. You kind of have to be a jack of all trades,” 2nd Lt. Closen demonstrated to Riddell in regards to tactical medical treatment they may use when in the field.

Around the corner from the medical supplies were large, wire containers where specialists store their gear. Personalities shown through as we walked by and ogled the various equipment stored throughout the bins, including Kevlar vests, mission oriented protective posture gear, and even an American flag, displayed proudly against the wall in a well-organized locker. The third lesson for Riddell: Be prepared.

2nd Lt. Closen scoured through his bin and mass of gear to gift Riddell with uniforms and shoes he purchased but wasn’t able to use before heading off for officer training school; assured Riddell would put them to good use at the Air Force Academy.

“I like how everybody who’s there wants to be there; you have to want to stay there because you have to try so hard to get in, so I think being surrounded by people with like-minded interest will be a great change,” stated Riddell.

As the tour digressed, 2nd Lt. Closen, through stifled yawns and heartfelt laughs, continued to mentor Riddell and even let him try on some of his military-grade equipment, like his Kevlar vest and empty magazine cartridges to feel the weight that’s carried through the intense situations they face. Riddell’s final lesson: “Time is a precious thing. Never waste it,” said a wise candy-maker.

We wrapped up our tour in 2nd Lt. Closen’s office and I could see the respect gleaming in Riddell’s eyes as he gained a better understanding for what our Airmen under the wire are truly capable of doing and handling; may he bring that legacy with him in his future military endeavors.