Although they are not as well known and as highly publicized as other branches’ Special Operations units, the United States Air Force Combat Controllers, or CCTs, are just as highly skilled and capable of completing even the most daunting objectives.
The precedent for Combat Controllers was the Pathfinder teams, which originated in 1943 during World War II. These pathfinders would covertly deploy to battlefields hours before the main forces, and would relay important tactical information such as weather and intelligence on enemy forces. After the conclusion of WWII and the creation of the US Air Force, pathfinders were organized into Combat Control Teams, much like they are today.
Just like other special ops units, CCTs are trained in small unit tactics, diving, amphibious operations, demolition, and a variety of insertion methods including fast-roping, parachuting, and a variety of all-terrain vehicles. So what exactly makes combat controllers stand out from all the other branches of special operations? Unlike the others, CCTs are FAA-certified air traffic controllers, which denotes their primary mission profile: inserting into hostile environments and coordinating the air support along with the ground forces.
Combat controllers are experts at conducting communications, directing fire support, and commanding the battlefield. They are able to use stealth tactics to infiltrate enemy lines and perform vital reconnaissance on enemy positions, and then they’re capable of coordinating the assault on those positions. Air Force combat controllers are often embedded in other special operations units in order to provide assistance with their unique combat qualifications.
From the initial strategy for pathfinders during World War II, to the deployment of Air Force Combat Controllers in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and every other major conflict, these elite special operations teams have always upheld their motto “First There”.