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FAC Tour: The good and the bad

81montedriver

Well-Known Member
pilot
So I'm nearing the end of my first tour and am trying to research all of my options for when the time comes for me to move. I'm not against a FAC tour and was hoping to learn pros and cons from the prior FACs on this forum. Thanks.
 

phrogpilot73

Well-Known Member
There are tons of pros, and a handful of cons. It was hands down the most rewarding and enjoyable tour of my career. You have any specific questions?
 

81montedriver

Well-Known Member
pilot
Sure do.

1. Length of a typical battalion FAC tour?
2. Daily battle rhythm or schedule? If this is too vague or varies by battalion don't worry about it.
3. My last PFT was a 270. Should I work on bringing that up ?
4. Will I have any Marines under me?
5. Do you have any more of a say to a follow on assignment after a FAC tour compared to say MWSS?
6. Describe FAC deployment in a nutshell.

In addition, if you could list a few pros and cons compared to life in the wing I'd appreciate it.

Thanks !
 

phrogpilot73

Well-Known Member
1. Length of a typical battalion FAC tour?
One year. The idea is to get you out of the battalion in enough time to not refresh if you want to head back to a fleet squadron. I was getting out, so I spent a year and a half in my battalion.
2. Daily battle rhythm or schedule? If this is too vague or varies by battalion don't worry about it.
Varies by battalion, garrison/exercise, and type of deployment. I did a MEU deployment, so my experiences are likely different than someone who went to Iraq/Afghanistan as a FAC. When we were in garrison, I did a lot of fucking off. I mean "airspace coordination meetings"...
3. My last PFT was a 270. Should I work on bringing that up ?
I'm a solid second class PFT'er. No one seemed to give a shit.
4. Will I have any Marines under me?
Not really. You'll be assigned to the Battalion S-3. It's organized with an OpsO (junior Major or senior Capt coming off his Wpns Co tour, typically), an S-3A (mid-grade Capt waiting on Company Command), Battalion Gunner, Ops Chief (MGySgt/MSgt type), Assistant Ops Chief (GySgt) and some clerks. The FACs are kind of their own "shop-within-a-shop" if you will. My OpsO made it very clear that I was an officer first, and if he or the 3A weren't around - it was my job to step up and lead. That's the way the grunts think. There's a handful of Capts in the battalion, so you go from can't swing a dead cat without hitting a Capt to "oh my god, he's a Capt" literally overnight. Takes some getting used to.
5. Do you have any more of a say to a follow on assignment after a FAC tour compared to say MWSS?
In my day, if you did a deploying FAC tour - you could pretty much write your own ticket. I had orders to VMR-1 to split my time between the Phrog and the UC-35. That is, until I decided to get out.
6. Describe FAC deployment in a nutshell.
Again, I did a MEU deployment - so it may be a bit different than others experiences. Shipboard, life sucked. I spent a lot of time wandering the ship looking for something to do. Got tired of sleeping for 14+ hours, so spent more time in the wardroom lounge than I knew what to do. Played lots of video games, watched a lot of movies, spent a ton of money in the ship's store because it was something to do I hadn't done that week, cleaned my weapons (gave me something to do), ate, worked out, went to meetings, slept some more, etc... Now this is after the deployment had started. During workups, I was busy as balls planning, coordinating, controlling, etc...

The positive of the MEU deployment was the variety of what we did. Port calls, exercises, real world stuff... I had 7 port calls (Marseille and Toulon, France, Civitivecchia, Italy (twice), Limassol, Cyprus (twice), and Dubai, UAE). We did bi-lateral exercises in Jordan and Pakistan, and did a NEO out of Beirut. Even when ashore doing those things, there's lots of down time. Also got a chance to work with the 101st Airborne and their AH-64's. Their squadron WTI (not his title, but easier to understand where he was in the hierarchy) had convinced his battalion commander that they needed to be able to do CAS. He and a couple of his pilots had been through MAWTS FAC(A) syllabus (flew the planes out to Yuma to do it), and was actually a joy to work with.
In addition, if you could list a few pros and cons compared to life in the wing I'd appreciate it.
Pros:
You're a captain. Don't underestimate what that means in grunt world.
Interaction with young Marines. The relationship is wholly different than in the wing.
Learning about the grunts. You find out that most of the SNCO's are actually VERY smart.
The relationship you develop with your RTO. My RTO just finished up at the University of Arizona, and is going to be headed to P-Cola after TBS.
If you're the Battalion AirO, you rate your own HMMWV (that has more radios than the BC's). It's pretty sweet.
Watching SNCO heads explode when you show up in chucks & a flight jacket (now mandated on Fridays!)
Being the duty expert on air. Everyone from a fire team leader on up, wants to pick your brain.
If you're the Battalion AirO, you're considered battalion special staff. That means you only go to the field, hump, etc. if the whole battalion is going. Often times a company needed my support, I'd drive out to the field - support them, then drive back to the battalion to do something else.
TACP shoots are a blast.
Going to the field. Can be both a pro and a con, but don't underestimate how bored you can get in garrison.

Cons:
You're a Captain, but not an 0302. That means when it comes time for investigations? Yup. It's going to be you. In 4 years in my squadron - I had done exactly zero. In my 1 1/2 years in the battalion, I did three.
You're often referred to as the SLJO. Education officer, PT officer, MWR officer, etc... They all fall in the air shop's lap.
If it has to do with air - it's your responsibility. If it's a kite with a camera, it's yours. "Air" conditioning out in the S-3. Yup. It's yours.
Humps. Only now you're doing it with radios. Bonus.
Going to the field. They don't give a shit about the weather/crew rest when they go to the field.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - it was hands down, the most rewarding and enjoyable tour I've ever had. I enjoyed it so much - I'm teaching it in my civilian job (I instruct at TACP school at EWTGLANT). I don't know about ANGLICO, and what their life is like - but if I was going to do a FAC tour again, an infantry battalion would be my first choice. Regimental AirO? Yeah, that sucks. Same, same for MEU Assistant AirO.

The best advice I got before I embarked on my FAC tour was from skidkid (RIP). "Don't try to out grunt the grunts. Say dude, wear funky sunglasses, let the Lt's call you by your callsign. You can't out grunt the grunts, so don't try."
 

squeeze

Harrier Dude
pilot
Super Moderator
Contributor
A topic near and dear to my heart...

A lot of what I'll say will echo PP73's sentiments, as I absolutely loved my FAC tour and think every Marine should try to do one. I will probably F up the quoting below, so deal.

Sure do.

1. Length of a typical battalion FAC tour?
2. Daily battle rhythm or schedule? If this is too vague or varies by battalion don't worry about it.
3. My last PFT was a 270. Should I work on bringing that up ?
4. Will I have any Marines under me?
5. Do you have any more of a say to a follow on assignment after a FAC tour compared to say MWSS?
6. Describe FAC deployment in a nutshell.

In addition, if you could list a few pros and cons compared to life in the wing I'd appreciate it.

Thanks !
1. Mine was supposed to be a 12 month, non-deploying gig that turned into 18 months with 2 trips to Afghanistan. It was painful at the time, but the most rewarding tour I've done thus far. The intent is to get you back in the cockpit without an FRS refresh and, depending on the battalions deployment schedule can be accommodated fairly easily. I was out so long, I lost all my quals and had to do a month at -203 to refresh. It was easy and as much a 'vacation' as Havelock, NC can give you.

2. When you're in the rear, you barely have any responsibilities. Yes, you're part of the 3, but I was never expected to "pick up the role" of the Ops guys like PP was. My FACs and I were those pilots that no one really knows what they do. You do suck up all the jobs that are reserved for the FNGs in the squadron like Coffee Mess, Education Officer, and goto for every PI/CI. I was fortunate to have an awesome BC and XO who said since I was the AirO, I dealt with that, while my FACs got all the side jobs. If you're not in the field on a battalion exercise or doing a TACP shoot, your day is pretty much your own. I would show up around 0730, hang out in the office and bullshit with the company commanders (the Air Shop had the best coffee, thus it was a good rally point) until around 1000. From there, grab a snack at the 7-day store, then hit the gym for 1-2 hours. Unlike the wing, you are expected to go to the gym during working hours and people don't have an aneurysm when they see you leaving in the middle of the day. From there, I'd often go home for lunch and reappear at work at 12-12:30. Check emails, fix issues, and what have you. I was home by 1500 most days. You are legitimately treated like an adult in the battalion. You are expected to know what you have to accomplish, manage your time, and participate in unit activities. There is none of the wing 'wearing working hours like a badge of honor' bullshit.

3. My PFT score is in the same ballpark. The myth of 'all grunts run 300s' is hilarious. There are just as many slowpokes in a battalion as there are a squadron. Hell, our humps looked like the Bataan Death March. We did battalion runs once a week or so, and as a member of H&S and an officer, you typically just hang out at the rear of the formation with the other non-unit leader O's and bullshit during the run. Some were fast, some were not. It was a non-issue. I checked in right in the middle of a hump-workup program, culminating in a 16.5 mile hill hump which, on Camp Pen is not fun. Anyhow, I missed all the workup humps, so I went right into the 16.5 with gear. You will never realize how much they beat into your head that 'officers don't fall out' until you do something like that. 18 year old 0302s falling out all over the place and as a 30-something pilot who hadn't done that shit in 7-8 years, I made it (in lots of pain, but still...). It's all mental - one thing they don't lie about in TBS.

4. That totally depends on your deployment schedule. When I checked in, it was just me and another FAC for a couple months. When we got TEEPd for Afghanistan, we got our TO'd 3 total FACs and 3 prior-0861 JTACs. They work for you, sorta, but they are RS'd by whichever company co they get assigned to. Usually, the AirO dictates who goes where based on skill/personality. Each FAC rates a radio operator, but often you have to fight to get one. And don't think that just because he's an 06XX RTO, he knows anything about radios. You don't write on them either, at least in my experience. While you don't have anyone directly under your charge exactly, you are still responsible for everything the FAC/JTACs do, fail to do, or fuck up.

5. If you do a deploying FAC tour, you are the highest priority to get back to the fleet (based on experience and straight from the FW monitor who is a buddy of mine). FAC tours and school are the first ones to get DIFOP orders if they want them, other DIFDEN next, and DIFOP last... when you're speaking of getting back to DIFOP. I was still paranoid as my tour wound down and trying to do the communication from Afghanistan made it more unnerving, but in the end it all worked out. If you have quals and a good rep and are coming off a FAC tour, you are pretty much guaranteed to get back.

6. Here is where I can't really speak to the average as mine was pretty different from most. I did a 3 month "IA" of sorts to augment the RCT-7 air shop for the kickoff of Moshtarak. While there, I worked in a RCT COC for 12 hours a day sitting in a chair in front of a computer or 3, validating ASRs/JTARs, working with the DASC (shoutout to gaijin6423 who I probably pissed off more times than necessary) to stack air in a HIDACZ, and providing decon help for cross-boundary air fires. It wasn't as sexy as it sounds, but it was necessary, and allowed the regular RCT-7 air guys to go on their 2 week leave from their 1 year deployment. I got back home, had 10 days off, then was in the field for 10 days with my battalion at Camp Pen. Another couple months later we did EMV, had a month of pre-deployment leave, then headed out the door to Afghanistan again. We took over an area that had no real American presence before, so there was a lot of learning and a lot of fighting. The 'nice' thing about that was that it worked like it's supposed to and all the bullshit goes away and it's all about the mission.

I lived in an Afghan mud hut on a FOB tied to a motorola radio 24/7. From about 0800-2000 I was in the COC for the vast majority of the time with a few radios, and a SIPR machine requesting air, deconflicting fires, and calling in too many medevacs. In lulls, I could wander out to the gym and try to complete a workout before the next firefight broke out or someone stepped on an IED. You will field calls from the squadrons about upcoming sorties, answer any and every question about anything slightly related to aviation, and depending on your setup, will often be the most SA-enhancing person in the COC. Your radios and the FAC/JTAC treatment of the nets is so different from the grunts. Grunts will wait to get the info, organize it into a SALTA format, then submit it via the company TAC to the battalion TAC. JTACs just call over the TAD (no TACPL for us) "hey, kilo 3's in contact..." and you know before everyone else. While neglected in the rear, aviation fires, assault support, and medevacs are so critical in combat that you are instrumental in the COC. So much so that a lot of BCs and OpsOs won't let their AirOs go out on ops much at all. I've had several friends with similar experiences.

You spend the lulls in the action catching up on JTARs and other plans. If you're smart, you hand all the ASRs to the S-4 and make them handle it (it's their job, but airplanes are foreign, so they often get left to the air shop), because they are never ending and all consuming. My days were basically "eat, gym, cleared hot, medevac, gym, eat, sleep" for 7.5 months. And looking back, despite the insane mental, physical, and emotional stress, it was the best experience of my life.

Part 1/2
 

squeeze

Harrier Dude
pilot
Super Moderator
Contributor
Part 2/2 (char limit)

PROS
-You are treated like an officer in the USMC and expected to behave like one. No questions asked. You are given "special trust and confidence." You are expected to know your job (because god knows the grunts don't) and get it done. No one is in your shit all day micromanaging you. Big boy rules. This, hands down, was the nicest aspect of it.
-If you don't now, you very shortly will gain complete understanding of what it means to be "supported" vs "supporting" and you will absolutely HATE when dealing with outside units who cannot comprehend that concept. 99/100 your battalion is the 'supported.'
-You work for the BC. You have to deal with a lot of people from wing, and they will often try to pull rank on you or strongarm you with bullshit threats (I'm looking at you TACC), but you have the most wonderful out: "with all due respect sir, I don't work for you."
-You are one of maybe 10-12 Captains in the entire battalion of ~1000 Marines. Coming from wing-land where O-3s are a dime a dozen, this can be a shock. Marines will literally stumble over words trying to respond when you say "hey what's up?". They don't talk to their CC unless they're in trouble usually. You get to be the "cool" officer who people relax around. You hangout with both the Lts and the Captains (but not at the same time).
-You are an unquestioned SME on all things aviation. If you are competent, this is a good thing. If you're an idiot, you will taint the image of aviation to every Marine in that battalion and skew their perspective in the future. I've met several BCs and OpsOs who hated on air because they had some jackwagon FAC back in the day.
-You never stand duty. That's what 2ndLts are for.
-When you go to the field, it's for Battalion-level things only (unless you choose to head out with companies from time to time - do this!) and it's not a TBS-like haze-ex. You get a tent a lot of times, you take stoves and snivel gear and make coffee and use your cellphone.

CONS
-Like PP73 said, all the ancillary taskers get thrown on the air shop. All of them.
-Crew rest and crew day are nice... they don't have them. But you make up for it in the rear.
-ANYTHING aviation related is your domain, even if it's not. "AirO, when's that flight home?" - "no idea sir, I'll ask the S4"

To echo PP73, it was hands down, my best experience in the Marine Corps. My friends that I have from the battalion will be my friends for life. I'd do it again in a heartbeat if I could, and if someone offered me a no-shit JTAC job, I'd be on it like white on rice.

The best advice I got before I embarked on my FAC tour was from skidkid (RIP). "Don't try to out grunt the grunts. Say dude, wear funky sunglasses, let the Lt's call you by your callsign. You can't out grunt the grunts, so don't try."
AMEN. Flight suit fridays, aviator sunglasses, hands in your pockets, "dude", "bro", "stop calling me sir dude, 'squeeze' works fine". Live it up. You'll hear mutterings of "fuckin pilots" but it's all in fun and they'll love you for it.

-Squeeze
3/5 Air Officer
Dec 09 - May 11
 

81montedriver

Well-Known Member
pilot
Really appreciate the detailed responses, thanks!

Having deployed with a MEU , and spending a brief period as the Herc LNO to the Iwo, I've seen first hand the work the MEU AirO and Asst AirO do. Fairly confident no two MEUs are the same, but it just seemed like those 2 guys worked their asses off and had very atypical experiences from a non MEU deployment.
 

Harrier Dude

Living the dream
Having deployed with a MEU........

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!! That's a good one! Oh......you were serious?

Smiles and shit.


I've seen first hand the work the MEU AirO and Asst AirO do. Fairly confident no two MEUs are the same, but it just seemed like those 2 guys worked their asses off and had very atypical experiences from a non MEU deployment.
Having done the Asst. MEU AirO job, it was pretty lame. It would be a great stretch to say that any of us "worked our asses off". Then again, that was pre-9/11.

I did the Division AirO job, too, but that was much more staff and much less tactical/field. Aside from TACP school and MAWTS AirO course (HIGHLY recommended), it was all CoC bullshit.

Still a good tour, but not nearly as rewarding as what I hear a Battalion FAC tour is.

My advice: jump on the deal.
 

phrogpilot73

Well-Known Member
To put it in simpler terms, I very seriously considered doing a FAC tour as my final tour in the reserves before retiring. Then timing worked out where I'd be able to retire the same day as the Phrog, and I changed my mind. Plus, having a job where I'm a JTAC(I) is pretty sweet. Although I am jealous of the young studs that are headed to infantry battalions. If I could do it again, I would in a heartbeat.

Squeeze had some really good stuff in his post, for me it's a little tougher to dust off the brain housing group and remember - since my FAC tour was in '06/'07. I will say this - part of the reason he expected me to step up in the S-3 is because he wanted cross training amongst the shop. He demanded that everyone in the 3 learn as much as they could about air, and demanded that I learn as much as I could about the battalion. It paid off - because I could step up and let the OpsO sleep when he was going on two days of no sleep and I took over as the Battalion Watch Officer in the COC. I learned a ton about how to fight an infantry battalion, and again would do it all in a New York minute.

Our OpsO nearly lost his mind when we showed up one Friday in flight suits (complete with 1/8 battalion patches). He had literally just finished telling us no more flight suits on Friday, when the BC walked in and asked why we were in flight suits. Told him it was flight suit friday and he said "awesome!" Not much more the OpsO could say.

Also to echo what squeeze said - I keep in touch with all but a handful of the guys in my battalion, to include the BC/OpsO/Company Commanders, etc... The plaque on my wall that means the most to me is the one that says "From the Men of the Beirut Battalion".
 

Renegade One

Well-Known Member
None
Our OpsO nearly lost his mind when we showed up one Friday in flight suits (complete with 1/8 battalion patches). He had literally just finished telling us no more flight suits on Friday, when the BC walked in and asked why we were in flight suits. Told him it was flight suit friday and he said "awesome!" Not much more the OpsO could say.
Well played…:cool:
 

squeeze

Harrier Dude
pilot
Super Moderator
Contributor
Our OpsO nearly lost his mind when we showed up one Friday in flight suits (complete with 1/8 battalion patches). He had literally just finished telling us no more flight suits on Friday, when the BC walked in and asked why we were in flight suits. Told him it was flight suit friday and he said "awesome!" Not much more the OpsO could say.
Ours pretty much went the same way. No one in the regiment had done flight suit fridays in who knows how long. My other FAC and I got battalion patches and wore TMS patches on the shoulder. We caught grief from all the other Captains. Rolled into a staff meeting, the CO and XO just looked at us, laughed, and said "nice" and it was game on from then. Of course at all the formations on Fridays, when we'd walk past the Marines formed up, guys would be humming the Top Gun anthem. Good times. That started it in the regiment, and I can only hope it kept on until the current fun police Friday policy.
 

Renegade One

Well-Known Member
None
Tip of the Hat to both PP73 and Squeeze. Not sure there's any experience anything like that for Navy folks…unless you guys also embrace your Blue 13XX Brethren for these billets…but I've never heard of it. Maybe the EA guys who got to do an IA for IED-suppression….I dunno.
Color me jealous…even now. And thanks for your service...
 
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