Combat Controllers are the combat airmen of the CCTs (Combat Control Teams). Their motto is First There, representing their traditional deployment ahead of conventional and even other SOF troops into forward areas and hostile environments in order to establish assault zones and perform other missions. They are ground combat forces acting much like pathfinders, working in remote, typically hostile areas (frequently ‘behind the lines’ in ‘traditional’ warfare) as air traffic controllers, coordinating fire support and assisting in C3 (command, control and communications) efforts in non-permissive, covert and/or austere environments. Because they deploy in their own teams as well as alongside other SOF units (Army Rangers, Special Forces, SEALs and others) on combat, reconnaissance, FID and CSAR missions, Combat Controllers are required to have direct action, demolitions and other capabilities not typically associated with Air Force personnel.
CCTs trace their history to the first Army Pathfinders, created by insistence of General Gavin of the 82ND Airborne Division after troopers dropped by night near Gela, Sicily, were scattered from miles by high winds and poor visual references. Pathfinders were envisioned as dropping in ahead of main airborne assault forces to emplace NAVAIDs, establishing visual and electronic aids to guide follow-on aircraft and troops (in those days these were the Eureka radar beacon and burning signals, such as barrels of fuel-soaked sands). Perhaps most famously, pathfinders were deployed during Operation Overlord. Later in the European theater, Combat Control Teams utilizing jeeps and mounted radios to communicate with following aircraft to coordinate resupply drops, CAS missions of the day and to provide aircraft control. CCTs of some form (whether called FACs other, defacto acronyms) have been involved in some combat, humanitarian, peacekeeping and other classified operations since the USAF became an autonomous branch of the military.