Air Force Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) specialists embed with U.S. Army and Marine units throughout troubled spots in the world. It is the responsibility of the TACP (commonly pronounced as ‘TAC-P’) to call in an air strike on the right target at exactly the right time.
Air Force TACPs are members of Air Force Special Operations along with Combat Controller (CCT), Pararescue (PJ), and Special Reconnaissance (SR).
With the official motto “The strong shall stand, the weak will fall by the wayside,” TACPs are considered the ‘badasses’ of the Air Force.
Becoming an Air Force TACP is not for the faint of heart. The attrition rate of Air Force TACPs has been as high as 70% in recent years.
TACPs must undergo intense physical, mental, and technical training to prepare for the conditions of battle so that they can provide their team the firepower necessary to ensure battlefield success.
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Requirements and Qualifications
To become a TACP in the United States Air Force, there are specific requirements and qualifications one must meet, which include:
- High school diploma, GED with 15 college credits, or GED
- Successful completion of the TACP Physical Ability and Stamina Test (PAST)
- A minimum score of 30 on the TACP selection model completed in the Tailored Adaptive Personality Assessment System (TAPAS)
- ASVAB score of at least G49
- Normal color vision and depth perception
- Compliance with medical standards for Ground Base Controller Duty
- Possession of a valid state driver’s license to operate government motor vehicles
- Must maintain the ability to deploy and mobilize worldwide
- Qualification to bear firearms
- Must be between the ages of 17 and 39
- Completion of a National Agency Check, Local Agency Checks, and Credit Check
- Completion of 8.5 weeks of Basic Military Training
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Training and Career Path
Prior to becoming an Air Force TACP you must successfully complete the Air Force Basic Military Training course, commonly referred to as Boot Camp.
However, if you desire to be an Air Force TACP, the USAF recommends that you prepare prior to entering the TACP Pipeline.
To aid in that effort, the Air Force provides TACP candidates an easy-to-follow 21 Day Fitness Program for all Air Force candidates wishing to join the Air Force Special Ops.
Air Force Basic Military Training
All airmen must attend Basic Military Training (BMT) at Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA) Lackland in San Antonio, Texas.
Related Article – How Hard Is Air Force Basic Training?
Air Force Basic Military Training is eight and a half weeks in duration. However, recruits enrolled in the Delayed Entry Program (DEP) gain an edge in preparing for Air Force Boot Camp by learning many of the military fundamentals with their Air Force recruiters.
Most recruiters also work with the fledgling recruits on preparing for the physical rigors they will encounter in Air Force Basic Military Training.
The Air Force segments into weeks, from Zero Week to Week 8. Recruits, over time, have given each week a special nickname that best describes the week.
For example, Week One is commonly referred to as ‘Sneaker Week’ since recruits are not yet issued boots, and must wear tennis shoes with their uniforms, instead.
Week 6 is known as BEAST week for Basic Expeditionary Application Skills Training Week.
During BEAST Week, recruits prepare for mock deployment, live in tents, eat Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) and train for current combat environments.
Skills and fundamentals taught during the rigorous eight and a half weeks during Air Force Basic Military Training include:
- Physical Conditioning
- Basic Marching and Drill Movements
- Weapons Cleaning
- Law of Armed Conflict
- Reporting and Saluting
- Flight Formation
- Temper Tent Training
- Mental Preparation for Combat
- Formal Retreat
- CPR Certification
- Code of Conduct
- Nuclear Biological and Chemical Training
- M9 (9MM) Pistol Training
- Military Citizenship
- Air Force History and Organization
- Combat Stress Recovery
- Joint Warfare
- Combat Stress Recovery
Please note that this list is but a basic overview of the skill taught during Basic Military Training and is not all-inclusive.
More detailed information about Air Force Basic Military Training is available here.
After Basic Military Training, the real work begins for Air Force TACP candidates.
Air Force Special Warfare Preparatory Course
The Air Force Special Warfare Preparatory Course is but the first leg in the long and arduous journey to become an Air Force TACP.
TACP candidates attend the Special Warfare Preparatory Course at JBSA Lackland.
Air Force Special Operations Training
The 8-week course challenges its students to undergo intense strength and conditioning training consisting of extensive swimming, running, and rucking. Air Force TACPs also learn about the armed services rich history of esprit de corps and Special Warfare.
Prior to continuing in the TACP Pipeline, candidates must take and pass the Physical Ability and Stamina Test (PAST).
Air Force TACP Preparatory Course
TACP candidates attend the TACP Preparatory Course at JBSA Lackland.
The duration of the course is one week long, but perhaps that should read one long week.
The Air Force designed the TACP Preparatory Course to prepare Airmen for the rigors of the TACP Pipeline. This extra week comprises a variety of intense, sustained calisthenics, middle- and long-distance running, and other mental and physical conditioning.
Not only does the TACP Preparatory Course help prepare young Airman intent on pursuing the TACP Pipeline, but it also allows the Air Force to identify those candidates unsuitable for the role.
Successful completion of the TACP Preparatory Course is mandatory to continue in the TACP Pipeline to the TACP Apprentice Course.
Air Force TACP Apprentice Course
Provided that they have made it this far in the Pipeline, TACP candidates attend Air Force TACP Apprentice Course, also known as the TACP Schoolhouse.
Based at JBSA Lackland, the TACP Apprentice Course is 22 weeks long and is where the highly specialized training happens for Special Warfare Airman.
It’s broken up into 4 blocks as follows:
- Block 1: 5 weeks
- Block 2: 4 weeks
- Block 3: 5 weeks
- Block 4: 8 weeks
The TACP Apprentice Course provides the Air Force Special Warfare Airmen with instruction and assessment in the fundamentals, art, and science of small unit tactics, radio communications, and the basics of close-air support.
Army Basic Airborne School
As they will often embed with Army and Marine units, TACPs must get there with them. Sometimes this means ‘dropping in.’
Air Force TACPs train with soldiers at Army Airborne school for three weeks at Fort Benning, GA.
At Army Airborne school, Air Force TACPs learn basic parachuting and prepare for static line jump operations.
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Air Force Basic Survival School
It’s on to Fairchild AFB, WA for our weary Special Warfare Airman as they take on Air Force Basic Survival School.
The Basic Survival School, also known as SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) Training is three weeks long.
Survival on the battlefield and behind enemy lines is of paramount importance to the Special Warfare Airman. It is at SERE training that TACPs learn the survival, evasion, resistance, and escape training which may one day save their life and the lives of their fellow airmen, soldiers, and Marines.
Additional Training and Opportunities
Continued training is a part of life for the Air Force TACP. Below are additional training opportunities that TACPs may need to complete as they progress in their careers.
- Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) Qualification Course – 4 weeks – Nellis AFB, Nevada
- Military Freefall Parachutist Course – 5 weeks – Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona
- Staticline Jumpmaster School – 3 weeks – Ft. Benning, Georgia
- Military Freefall Jumpmaster School – 3 weeks – Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona
- U.S. Army Pathfinder School – 3 weeks – Ft. Benning, Georgia
- U.S. Army Air Assault School – 2 weeks – Various Locations
- U.S. Army Sniper School – 5 weeks – Ft. Benning, Georgia
- U.S. Army Ranger School – 61 Days, Ft. Benning, Georgia
- Combat Diver Qualification Course – 7 weeks – Key West, Florida
How Much Are Air Force TACP Paid?
Pay for an Air Force TACP is identical to all other enlisted personnel (in all branches), based on an airman’s rank and length of service.
|Rank||Monthly Pay (per month)|
|E-1 Airman Basic||$1,733|
|E-3 Airman First Class||$2,043|
|E-4 Senior Airman||$2,263|
|E-5 Staff Sergeant||$2,468|
|E-6 Technical Sergeant||$2,694|
|E-7 Master Sergeant||$3,114|
Air Force TACPs may also be entitled to other forms of compensation including basic allowance for housing (BAH), base allowance for subsistence (BAS), and other forms of compensation such as Battlefield Airmen Skill Incentive (BASIP) pay if eligible.
It’s important to note that Air Force TACPs are often eligible for sizeable enlistment and selective re-enlistment bonuses based on the current needs of the Air Force.
What’s Life Like as an Air Force TACP?
Life as an Air Force TACP is challenging, but rewarding.
Special Operations Forces TACP
TACPs are often referred to as the “Air Force Infantry” as they spend most of their career assigned to Army units, usually with special operation forces.
TACPs primary role is to direct combat strike aircraft against enemy targets. In support of this mission, Air Force TACPs often serve on the front line in advance of other military units.
TACPs are often confused with Combat Control Technicians (CCTs). They are not. Airman 1st Class James Blair describes the TACPs mission and the differences.
“Some people think we are air traffic controllers, but that’s inaccurate. Our mission is terminal control. That means bombs on target and a very bad day for the enemy. TACP’s do not control aircraft like CCT’s do. TACP’s direct the bombs, artillery, and missiles on the enemy positions.”
Air Force TACPs are in constant states of deployment, boots on the ground, or training.
It is the boots of Air Force TACPs which dot the land of some of the most troubled, war-torn, inhospitable spots in the world. Their commitment to the fight for peace and freedom entitles them to be the only member of United States Air Force to don the coveted black beret.
Civilian Career Opportunities
Due to the peculiar duties performed by Air Force TACP, civilian opportunities are limited. A search for TACP on www.clearancejobs.com yielded only 26 results. Civilian companies (mostly defense contractors) were seeking ASOS (Air Support Operations Squadron) Support personnel, JTAC instructors, Systems Engineer/TACP, Test Engineer, USAF EOD Instructor Support, Senior Systems Engineer, and Senior Program Manager.
While civilian career opportunities are limited, TACPs leaving the Air Force can use their security clearance (if active) to aid in their job search.
Ex-Air Force TACP gives advice on civilian life after TACP.
Because of the limited civilian career opportunities, TACPs are strongly encouraged to take full advantage of their Post 9/11 GI Bill and all education opportunities afforded them during their time on active duty, such as the Air Force Tuition Assistance program and CCAF (Community College of the Air Force).
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If you are considering joining the Air Force and are not afraid to push yourself, a career as an Air Force TACP is certainly well worth consideration. You will not only travel the world and perform a vital service to your country, but you will also be among the most elite members of the United States Armed Services.
Another motto of the Air Force Tactical Air Control Party is “100% and then some!”
Do you have what it takes?
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