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Face of Defense: Airmen Practice Vital Combat Skills

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon
52nd Fighter Wing

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany, Nov. 21, 2012 – Crack! Crack! Crack!

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Airmen assigned to the 606th Air Control Squadron based at Spangdahlem, Germany, carry simulated casualties to a safe location during combat readiness training, Nov. 15, 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dillon Davis

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Excitement and confusion whirled across the base camp, as gunfire echoed through the tents and airmen scrambled to find cover.

The airmen peered out from the safety of makeshift bunkers as they searched for the source of the sounds.

Reports flooded across the radio of a team outside the wire with an unconscious young captain in tow.

"Get positive control of the casualty and return to base immediately," the voice on the radio commanded.

Just then, the alarm for incoming mortar fire sounded, and the airmen outside the perimeter hit the ground and braced for an explosion.

The cold, soggy ground quickly turned to mud and the wind managed to cut through the bundles of layers, uniforms and chemical protective gear they wore. Water engulfed one poor airman as he dove for the ground and landed in a puddle of water, the cold of which he would have to endure for the next 12 hours.

Although this was a controlled scenario and not an actual combat environment, airmen from the 606th Air Control Squadron here spent 72 hours braving the frigid German weather and spending every minute of it guarding their base to prepare them for the real thing.

The exercise prepares the airmen for the worst, said Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Messing, a Bremerton, Wash., native who runs the combat readiness training course these airmen experienced.

The course combined two weeks of classroom instruction with three days of practical exercise. The trainees set up a base camp and defended it at all costs, surviving scenario after scenario featuring mock enemy combatants.

"They can set up in the middle of nowhere, deploy a radar site and have to defend their own base," Messing said.

The field exercise requires participants to apply the lessons they’ve learned in the classroom over the past two weeks. They must react to exercise challenges by implementing the proper use of force, securing unexploded ordnance and being aware of their surroundings.

The field exercise is designed to overwhelm the trainees, creating a sort of stress inoculation, Messing said. It is also unique because the 606th has many airmen in support roles who normally would not experience combat or austere deployments.

"Not everyone gets training like security forces, but when these airmen come to an [air control squadron] you have to learn how to fight and defend” against the enemy, he said. "If they can survive here with what we throw at them, they have a better chance when the real thing happens."

The 606th is a rapidly deployable unit that can quickly pack up and convoy to any location in the European theater to set up radar sites and control air assets from strategic remote locations. Because the unit is self-sufficient, it needs everyone at the same combat readiness level. Every new member must complete the training.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Amanda Bailey, a data systems technician from Cocoa Beach, Fla., said she’s never experienced training like this, but she enjoyed working with other airmen from around the squadron.

Bailey said she learned critical combat skills.

"You're going to mess up, but the beauty of it is that it's a controlled learning environment," she said.


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