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Soldiers, Sailors Work to Avoid Civilian Casualties

American Forces Press Service

ABOARD USS NIMITZ IN THE INDIAN OCEAN, Nov. 16, 2009 – Two soldiers working deep inside this aircraft carrier serve as liaisons between the aviators of Carrier Air Wing 11 and coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan.

Army Maj. Johnnie Gallegos and Army Sgt. 1st Class Percy Patterson joined Nimitz Carrier Strike Group as ground liaison officers when Nimitz entered the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. Their work directly supports a tactical directive issued in July by Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, that places limitations on the use of force that could result in civilian casualties.

The directive authorizes air strikes and indirect fires under limited and prescribed situations in an effort to protect civilians and operate in a manner that is respectful to Afghan culture, Gallegos explained.

"Everyone … is focused on General McChrystal's directive to minimize civilian casualties," he said. "This is a great opportunity to work in a more deliberate manner in planning close-air-support missions to support units working to restore security for the Afghan people."

Gallegos and Patterson collaborate with joint terminal attack controllers located with U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Their goal is to integrate the close-air-support providers here with the ground commander's intent and to enhance the ground commanders’ overall battlefield perspective.

Patterson and Gallegos help to remove ambiguity from combat situations that pose potential confusion between forces on the ground and forces in the air.

One aspect of being a ground liaison officer is simply becoming acquainted with the environment aboard a ship. But since most Nimitz-class carriers are alike, Gallegos and Patterson have little trouble finding their way around.

"This is our fourth carrier, and my 11th month at sea this year," Patterson said.

Nimitz sailors try to lend a helping hand when they see the gray-green digital pattern of the Army combat uniform.

"A lot of people want to show us where the ship store is and tell us how to get places on the ship,” Patterson said. “Even though we already know all that stuff, we just let them do it. I know everyone is just trying to be helpful."

Carrier Air Wing 11 provides 30 percent of air support to the region. Since Sept. 18, Nimitz has launched 1,221 combat sorties in direct support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

(From a USS Nimitz news release.)

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