SOW prepares Airmen for deployments

  • Published
  • By Jennifer Emmons
  • Nucleus journalist
At high elevation, in the remote area of Coyote Canyon, Airmen were huddled in meetings last week, planning convoy missions, enemy assaults and rescue strategies, readying themselves for how they might escape and foil attacks from the enemy.

In another location, Airmen, including pararescuemen and members of the 58th Operations Support Squadron, were being dressed in makeup and fake blood to make it seem as though they had been injured in one of several surprise convoy attacks.

Around the vast expanse of the canyon, Airmen from a variety of specialty fields organized and readied themselves for impending ambushes in enemy territory. In the canyon, the enemy awaited their prey.

The Airmen were not in any real danger; they were actually participating in a simulation designed to be as real-to-life as possible to show them what deployment could possibly be like.

Master Sgt. Robert Sullivan, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 58th Operational Support Squadron and an aero gunner by trade, said the simulations were designed to mirror possible scenarios in the Middle East.

"All of the students participating in the simulation exercise have never been deployed," Sergeant Sullivan said, "so it's the best exercise to let them get hands-on practice and insight from not only their own experiences but from the knowledge they learn from me and other leaders who have been deployed before."

Student Airmen from various units under the 58th Special Operations Wing took part in the real-to-life exercise, including members from the 550th Special Operations Squadron, the 551st Special Operations Squadron and the 512th Rescue Squadron. Members with the 377th Air Base Wing also participated in different aspects of the mission, including the 377th Services Squadron supplying meals to the Airmen in the field.

Crew members slept out in bunks in Coyote Canyon during the three-day exercise, which began on Oct. 17 and wrapped up on Oct. 19. Parts of the exercise included mission planning and both day and night flight missions were held wherein the convoys were attacked by the "enemy."

Aircraft used in the simulations included C-130s, H-535s, HH-60s and UH-1s.

"Each airframe is doing a different scenario, so everyone is getting to exercise their own specialty duties," Sergeant Sullivan said.

For example, he said, Airmen operating C-130s conducted several different exercises, such as supply drops and refueling missions.

"We attacked the convoy," Sergeant Sullivan said. "UH-1 and H-60 helicopters then came and picked up some survivors on rescue missions.

"Every one of our airframes did something different, so it was really cool that everyone got great hands-on practice that was true-to-life," he said. "The experience as a whole is something new for the students, especially with the sleeping out in the field -- it's like camp."

As part of the exercise, the Airmen got intelligence briefings and support from the 58th OSS.

"Exercises are designed to give our students a taste of what it's like in a deployed situation," Sergeant Sullivan said. "This kind of training is always fun and very educational."

The idea to bring real-life simulations here came from Gen. William R. Looney III, commander of Air Education and Training Command, who saw that the hands-on, realistic training truly benefited students.

General Looney spoke with Col. Thomas Trask, 58th Special Operations Wing commander, and related the real value Airmen gained from the simulations and suggested that the same training be conducted here.

"The purpose of the entire experience is for the 58th OSS to introduce our initial qualification students who have never deployed to the deployment process and to the operating and living conditions it entails," said Lt. Col. Mark Ramsey, director of operations for the 58th OSS. "By coming to Coyote Canyon, the Airmen get to apply what they learn in the classroom in an austere environment. It also helps ease their anxieties and helps fill in the blanks of what it's really like to be deployed."

On Oct. 16, the students participated in pre-deployment processing, which was a joint effort between the 377th ABW and the 58th SOW, Colonel Ramsey said. The following day, on Oct. 17, the students got on a plane and flew out, which simulates the arrival into theater, set up their living and planning areas and began the actual mission planning and exercises.

"They have seen snippets of everything they will probably encounter when they deploy, which will most likely be somewhere in the Middle East," Colonel Ramsey said. "They can gain a lot from the experienced crew and leaders and take that experience to Iraq or wherever they are deployed."

Not only do simulations follow the class syllabus, but the experience gives them real-life battle skills they can take with them on deployment, he continued. "The lessons learned here are invaluable."

During last week's simulations, the Airmen applied their learned trades to different scenarios, wherein some Airmen dressed as the injured crew of a convoy that went under attack, some pararescuemen then arrived in helicopters and set up for mass casualties and triaged those injured and made determinations as to who needed to be flown out and who could be driven out.

"Meanwhile, a convoy was attacked by the 58th OSS -- which, in part, made up the opposition force, playing the enemy," Colonel Ramsey said. As the pararescuemen left the scene of the assault they, too, came under fire. Those acting as the enemy used guns with plastic bullets, which sting, but don't actually injure those in the convoy and the rescue squad.

"I like this exercise -- I haven't been deployed yet so it gives me a feel for what deployment is like," said Airman 1st Class Nick Hagan, a loadmaster stationed at Eglin AFB in Florida.

"I have learned a lot during this simulation," Airman Hagan said. "It's neat to see how stuff taught in the class translates to how it actually can go down."

And there are many different ways things can happen, Colonel Ramsey said. It's his job, along with all trainers, to make sure the Airmen are prepared for any situation they might face.

"Why do we do this? First and foremost, Airmen can get a sense of how important it is to take real-life initiative," Colonel Ramsey said.