CCT History & Heritage

Combat Control Teams – WWII to Vietnam

This brief synopsis of the development of Combat Control Teams details some of the contributions made by Combat Controllers across the 50+ year heritage and history that has shaped todays Special Tactics Combat Control Teams.

Combat Control Teams originated during the airborne campaigns of World War II. Major parachute assaults fell well short of expectations, resulting in some cases with personnel being air dropped as much as 30 miles from their intended target areas.

The shortcomings of these operations identified the need for effective guidance and control of air transported combat forces.

Thus, a small parachute scout company of Army pathfinders was organized and trained. Their mission was to precede the main assault force to an objective area and, through the use of high powered lights, flares and smoke pots, provide visual guidance and critical weather information to inbound aircraft.

In September of 1943, pathfinders were first employed during the airborne reinforcement of allied troops in Italy. They parachuted in only minutes prior to the airborne assault forces to establish drop zones. Their training paid off and resulted in tremendous improvements for airborne assault operations. Later, pathfinders from the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions played an integral role in the Normandy invasion.

On 17 September 1944, an airborne operation code named Market Garden was conducted in Holland. Experienced pathfinder teams from the 101st Airborne were deployed 25 minutes before the first wave of airborne troops. The use of visual navigational aids, en-route radio checkpoints and properly marked objective areas enabled each aircraft to successfully drop at the pre-coordinated location.

After the establishment of the U.S. Air Force as a separate service on 18 September 1947, organizational changes resulted in tactical airlift and aerial port squadrons assuming responsibility for support of the U.S. Army ground forces. Air Force pathfinder teams, later called combat control teams, were activated in January of 1953 to provide navigational aids and air traffic control for the growing airlift forces.

They were incorporated into aerial port squadrons and remained there until 1977, when they were assigned to the Director of Operations. In 1984 combat control was restructured into a system of squadrons and detachments reporting directly to numbered Air Forces and in 1991 they were placed under the control of host wing commanders. 

Since their activation, combat controllers have made many contributions to Air Force operations worldwide. Combat controllers participated and distinguished themselves in the Lebanon crisis (Jul- Oct ’58), the Congo crisis (Jul-Oct ’60 ), the Cuban crisis (Sep ’62), the China-India confrontation (Nov ’62 – Sep ’63), the Dominican Republic contingency, and the Southeast Asia conflict (including the evacuation of Vietnam and Cambodia)

(continue to: Vietnam > The War on Terror)