SSgt Garrick Stilkey, Regional Command-East Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Logistics Officer, stands in front of a MC-12 liberty at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, September 3, 2012. Stilkey enables the integration of available ISR assets into ground operations in eastern Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Capt. Raymond Geoffroy)
Capt. William Campbell, an Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Liaison Officer, stands next to a MC-12 liberty at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, September 3, 2012. Campbell advises and educates ground commanders on available ISR assets to enable successful operations. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Capt. Raymond Geoffroy)
Capt. Christopher Roome, a Space Liaison Officer tasked to support Combined Joint Task Force-1, stands atop the old Russian Tower at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, September 25, 2012. Roome advises and educates ground commanders on available space-based assets to enable successful operations. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Capt. Raymond Geoffroy)
by TSgt Shawn David McCowan
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
9/26/2012 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, AFGHANISTAN -- First impressions of a Liaison Officer's responsibilities might seem vague at best. A handful of Airmen, familiar with Air Force aircraft and technology, work alongside Army battlefield managers to enhance the Army's ground mission. Not long ago, that description may have been close enough.
But today the elite team consists of specialists in air, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum, who strategically combine their unique expertise with the Army's mission planning, resulting in game-changing enhancements that rival some science-fiction story plots. Those enhancements are making U.S. and Coalition efforts against insurgents more effective than ever.
SSgt Garrick Stilkey had worked in the Air Force Intelligence community for several years. He took on the challenge of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Liaison Officer, and eventually deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. His job attaches him to the Army's Regional Command-East, where he works side-by-side with the Army as an on-site advisor.
Stilkey begins his task by providing intelligence analysis, delivering it to Army battalions prior to mission planning. Then he briefs battlefield planners on currently available Air Force aircraft with ISR capabilities that increase mission effectiveness. The information is combined to support both the planning and execution of operations.
But Stilkey's job gets even busier when the mission begins. Once ISR aircraft availability is verified with an Air Liaison Officer, he coordinates with Army personnel in the battalion as well as communicating directly with convoys underway. "ISR-LOs like Stilkey remain involved in daily operations for the duration of the Army's mission.
For Stilkey to be successful, he must maintain a thorough knowledge of all ISR capability in the region, as well as the availability of various aircraft. From a standard Intel office, he said he was like many others who were unaware of the detail and responsibilities of the liaison officer community. But he also realizes the impact his work has on mission success.
"This experience broadened my sight on ISR. I have been Intel for six years, but I had no idea how deeply integrated we are with Army's operations. But the best thing about this job is the effect we have. It's rewarding to know that we are crucial in saving someone's life," said Stilkey.
Capt. William Campbell, another ISR-LO and Stilkey's supervisor, was attached to an Air Support Operations Squadron Ft. Riley. He has been part of an ASOS for three years. He pointed out the uniqueness of their job, and said he cannot stress the importance of this growing job enough.
"Because we educate, assist, and advise on available ISR in-country, we have to be constant experts on new assets, their specific capabilities, and how to employ them. This mission has become vital, and it's irreplaceable to have people at Brigade-level. We help develop a multi-service plan for each mission involving five to six agencies in two battle spaces. That's a tremendous amount of information all at once, in real-time, and usually without assistance," said Campbell.
"There's a proficiency in these assets that our Air Force people bring that the Army simply does not, and could not, have. We add a level of operations intelligence, video surveillance imagery, and multi-spectrum imagery, integrated into each Army movement."
Campbell also said Stilkey severely underplayed the importance of his particular role as liaison.
"Stilkey has been critical to the success of this overall mission. That's not an understatement. He's had the most situational awareness of this region and he knows how to identify potentially dangerous places. Recently he was helping his Army partners observe an area using an ISR aircraft when he told the team he noticed something."
According to Campbell, Stilkey recently employed an aircraft's infrared camera to check an ordinary-looking culvert. He sent other ISR-equipped assets to investigate further. His search resulted in the discovery of seven improvised explosive devices while the Army convoy was still many miles from the culvert.
He said Stilkey and the ISR team's efforts continue to produce even greater life-saving results. Campbell mentioned a recent ISR-supported operation that discovered more than a dozen IEDs in a single month, allowing teams to disable the devices and keeping convoys on the ground safely out of danger... all while still monitoring other activities and communicating with missions across the battle space.
Campbell cited data that showed a 28% drop in IED-related incidents because of the watchful eyes of the ISR team. Meanwhile, ongoing use of the same technology increases success of offensive operations as well as decreasing convoy travel times. Convoy missions across Afghanistan could take as long as 15 hours. But when using ISR assets to detect and avoid potential trouble, convoys were averaging just over nine hours. For convoys, saving time could equal saving lives.
The liaison officers' reach is not limited to the sky. Another part of their team of specialists has his eyes on the stars.
Capt. Christopher Roome is a Space Liaison Officer. He was the first specifically-designated SpaceLO ever assigned in the Area of Responsibility and Bagram. Previous Airmen in his role came from other specialties. As the first ASOS Airman to fill this position, he hoped to help redefine the role for future SpaceLOs.
Traditionally, a "SpaceLO" described available equipment and technology to battalion personnel for an operation. Application of space assets was limited to mostly Global Positioning Satellite communication. Roome has shifted his responsibilities to a more active role.
"This was considered a strategic and operational role. I'm trying to make it more tactical, and bring 'space' closer to the fight," said Roome.
Roome said the ways he and the Air Force apply space assets during his deployment will define the field and job scope for the next wave of SpaceLOs.
Roome began integration of GPS technology with air, land and sea operational timing, missile warning systems, and available satellite connectivity throughout the battle space.
The Bagram ISR team took the highly effective and technologically-advanced ISR community into the daily fight for Coalition forces facing insurgents. The new generation of ISR-LOs' first challenge may be simply to fill the shoes of the "pioneer" generation before them.
10/3/2012 5:33:08 PM ET Thank God for these Airmen doing this dangerous and special work.