History of the ROMADs


TACP Flash Patch as worn on the USAF Black Beret.
Members of the TACPs, TAC-Ps and J-TACs ranks are now considered to
be members of the US Air Force Special Operations Units.

Our History

Our ROMAD / FAC field started out during the Korean War (1950 ~ 1954).  During this time they did just what we did in South Vietnam.  We call in close air support to stop the enemy from advancing on our troops.  After the Korean War was over, the ROMADs and FACs were forgotten about till the war in South Vietnam started.  Then the USAF decided to reactivate the the ROMADs and FACs and press them back into action in South Vietnam.  So in 1965 Seven Direct Air Support Flights units were created in seven different locations around the South East Asia Region.  This is their story.

ROMAD has stood for a number of different acronyms over the years. For example - here is a short list: "Radio Operator, Maintenance And Driver" (ROMAD) - This was short lived being less than about 6 months.  Next came "Recon, Observe, Mark, And Destroy" (ROMAD) - This seemed to last through the most if not all of the Vietnam war.  Preferred and known today as a "Tactical Air Control Party" (TACP) or simply as a TAC-P or J-TAC.

The Airman were also know in the early days of Vietnam as "Pack Rats" because we carried our equipment into combat beside the US Army & Marines, Korean Army & Marines, Australian Army, and South Vietnam's Army and Marines units.  The "Pack Rats" were highly respected by all of the unit that came under fire by the enemy since we were right there with them on the front lines.  We were part of the Special Operations in the USAF while in South Vietnam and South Korea. We were also assigned to the 505 TCG Group while TDY to / in South Vietnam during the war.

Now that we were on the ground, attached to various ground maneuver units (The Army, Grunts, Foot Sloggers, Crunchies .... take your pick). The ROMADs mode of transport was the M-151A1 Ford jeep with a heavy communications pallet in place of the back seats. To keep this radio equipment in good working order a radio maintenance tech, a Radio Repairman was assigned to the "MRC-108 System". This ROMAD (Radio Operator, Maintainer And Driver, an enlisted guy usually an E2 or E3) was to assist a FAC (an officer, usually a Lieutenant or Captain) in getting around the country and more or less stay out of harms way in order to call in air strikes in support of the Unit that was under fire. We were the only USAF ground troops to go headlong into "ground combat and conduct air strikes while under enemy fire" and never receive a combat ribbon or any recognition for our combat service!  Most of us think this was totally unfair but that is the military for you. By the way, the USAF did NOT have a combat ribbon until the year 2001 and it was NOT made retroactive backwards to the Vietnam War which is a shame.

In the very beginning the primary Airman's AFSC (Army = MOS) chosen for this job were taken primarily from the 304X4 - Ground Radio Maintenance section (Army = Depot Level Radio Repair).  There were a number of Radio Operators 293X0 assigned to the Command HQ's and some actually went out on FAC Missions. These airmen were then teamed up with various officers (who were able to fly the O1e Bird Dog as well as other aircraft) who were called a CFAC or Combat Forward Air Controller in Vietnam and later on just plain FAC or Forward Air Controllers.  Each pair were assigned to one of the seven different Direct Air Support Flights through out South East Asia area. As time went on these airmen had to assumed a bigger roll in calling in air strikes as the officers were very seldom around.  They could be on other missions flying in a O1e Bird Dogs. This left the airmen on the ground in yet a different location or during night time operation when the O1e Bird Dog could not fly as this plane was VFR only. As a result the airman was the one on the radio calling the in air strike.

A Definition : A ROMAD is an Air Force enlisted man (no females or officers in this career field) assigned to an Army maneuver unit. Here's how it works. The US Air Force assigns ROMADs to the TACP (Tactical Air Control Party Flight). Our mission is to advise, assist, and control air assets in support of the US Army, usually in close proximity to friendly troops. In fact, the ROMADs primary mission is CAS (Close Air Support). ROMADs will move forward with a Scout or COLT team, locate and mark the target, and 'control' the CAS aircraft on the target.

Today - 2014, the TACP's AFSC is now know as 1C4X. To get into the ranks you should be at least an E-4 rank with a pay grade level of "4" to be considered eligible to sign up. These requirements having been changed slightly and may change again due to government cutbacks.  Full training is rough and tough with a lot of hard physical training. It takes about one year to complete all of the required schools. The last that I have heard the pass / fail rate is about 35% of each flight completing the school. This shows how tough the training is in this school.

There are several versions of the TACP's depending on what you are trained to do and what your skill level is which is also tied to the promotion system.  Each man in the team preforms different jobs. As such there may be a man assigned to HQ that will then call for aircraft to be sent and do all of the paperwork and then there is the airman who is on the front line waiting for the aircraft to arrive so that he can call the air strike.  While each is a TAC-P, each is preforming a different job. Keep in mind that the TAC-P is entry level and the J-TAC is the highly skilled air controller as found in todays USAF. The J-TAC requires more schooling and additional combat skills to qualify. Most J-TAC's are jump qualified and some are HALO certified.

If you would like to see the requirements necessary to enter into the TACP ranks then take a minute and visit this address  TAC-P / ROMADS and visit the training section. Listed are all of the different schools that you must go to. There is a special emphasis on rough physical training - got to keep up with the army you know!  This field is now considered a Special Forces Unit of the US Air Force or Special Operations Division (SOD or SOG).

Some additional history on the ROMADs from the J-TACs history books.

"I suppose to understand what a ROMAD is, you must first understand where we came from. The original use of the term sprouts from the days of the Vietnam Conflict. Fighter pilots would be dispersed to Army maneuver units in order to liaison and direct close air support (CAS) against enemy targets that were in close proximity to friendlies.

"Of course, being an officer of the highest caliber and training, these pilots needed enlisted troops to operate, maintain, and transport the massive radio systems used to communicate with aircraft. These enlisted folks were known as ROMADS for Radio Operator, Maintainer, And Driver. These poor souls were usually radio maintenance troops who got stuck living with the Army for a few years instead of an air base. The enlisted guys were limited in their role because the Battalion Air Liaison Officer (BALO--that pilot I was talking about) was the only person authorized to control airstrikes.  (It may be noted here that a lot of ROMADs also conducted air strikes with out the BALO on location.)

"The history of the BALO actually has roots all the way back to WWII. John Wayne in "The Flying Leathernecks" sends one of his pilots forward to control strikes. In Korea, Forward Air Controllers (FACs) controlled countless missions against the Communist North Korea. Vietnam saw the true advancement of the FAC as they were assigned to airborne platforms and ground units.

"Watch the movie "Bat 21" with Larry Hagman and Danny Glover. You will see a "Bird Dog" marking targets and clearing aircraft "Hot" on the target. The much renowned RAVENS were infinitely brave pilots controlling CAS deep into Laos during the black ops conducted by CIA. Nothing is ever said of the ROMAD although he was there and remained there with the Army even after the BALO went home. ROMADS live and fight with the Army. Even today, most ROMADS know more about the Army than the Air Force.

"After Vietnam, the Air Force created a separate AFSC (now the 1C4X1 career field) for the enlisted guy. Now he was no longer a maintainer, he was an operator. Still stuck in the role of assisting the ALO / BALO but trained in CAS and how to control Emergency CAS. In the mid 1980's the Air Force saw a problem in maintaining pilots in the cockpit and the Army units. The result was the Enlisted Terminal Attack Controller (E-TAC).

"The E-TAC is a highly trained and proficient ROMAD who takes the controlling aspect away from the officer. The E-TAC is the deadliest weapon on the battlefield. He can liaison to the Army commander, call for artillery or Naval gunfire, coordinate airspace control measures, and deploy forward to control CAS. He is hostile and mobile and has at his finger tips the ability to lay waste to anything he can see (and some things he can't!). You will find E-TACs assigned to Tactical Air Control Parties (TAC-Ps) in all types of maneuver units from Airborne, Air Assault, Armor, Mech, Ranger, and Special Forces. You could find them jumping into Panama with the Rangers or racing across the desert with the 1st Cavalry Division in Desert Storm.

"ROMADs were deployed to establish communications during the Mt. Saint Helens eruption and numerous hurricane disasters. The ROMAD is the most resilient member of the Air Force even though he is most often forgotten and least recognized. They usually have bad reputations and are looked at as being more green than blue.

"We are the airman who say "HUA", wear Army patches on our shoulders, and black berets on our heads and we are proud of that fact. We are the only ground combat career field in the Air Force who's sole purpose is to rain destruction on the enemy and kill people. We do our PT every morning and make fun of the regular Air Force guys who don't. We are often called the Army Air Corps or the Air Force infantry but neither of those descriptions are accurate.

"A ROMAD walks a little taller, talks a little louder, drinks more, cusses more, and has the worst manners in the USAF. All this said though, we are a family. I know that wherever I am in the world, if I am close to a TAC-P, I have a friend. I am proud to be a part of the greatest job in the Air Force."

From the J-TACs history