KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. — Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Batta, 377th Security Forces Squadron here, demonstrates the proper installation of MILES equipment on a weapon during a two-part exercise here June 20. (Air Force photos by Todd Berenger)
KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. — During the exercise, the security forces squadron used MILES equipment and simunitions, which are detergent-based simulated rounds that are used for training. A convoy prepares to roll over a bridge where the Operation Force Team, a team of volunteers from Kirtland who participate in exercises on base, waits to "ambush" it. (Air Force photos by Todd Berenger)
by Mara Minwegen
377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
7/5/2006 - KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- They call it playing, but these are the skills that could save their lives.
As members of the 377th Security Forces Squadron here, the odds are good that all these young men and women will deploy, very possibly in harm's way. That fact rarely leaves the thoughts of their superiors, who plan and supervise the training exercises.
"Everyone will participate," Maj. Martin Rothrock, 377th SFS commander, said.
A two part combat training exercise took place June 20 that was designed to prepare Airmen for convoys and close combat. Each scenario employed different tactics and simulated weapons fire, but both mimicked real-world combat closely.
"This morning was a convoy, a protection level one movement from (the Kirtland Underground Munitions and Maintenance Storage Complex) to Pad 5. The scenario was to have the convoy attacked at a low water bridge," Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Batta, 377th SFS, said.
The Operation Force Team, a group of 377th SFS and 898th Munitions Squadron Airmen who volunteer to be the opposition in training exercises took part, contributing two snipers and 14 attackers using small arms fire. M gear, a laser system simulating long range fire, was used for the morning exercise.
The canine unit went out to locate the enemy, then the all-terrain vehicles. Then the convoy rolled onto the bridge.
The bridge was blown up by a simulated explosion and the attack ensued. The objective of the opposition was to obtain the resource being carried by the convoy. The objectives of the Airmen were to secure the resource and fight the enemy.
Chief Batta is proud of how his Airmen performed.
"The enemy did pretty well, but they fought through it, used tactics with firepower, defeated the enemy and pulled the resource out," he said.
The afternoon exercise was indoors. The opposition was an armed force trying to gain access to KUMMSC.
"Hopefully, we'll stop them at the tunnel," Chief Batta said.
There was some banter among the Airmen as they disappeared below ground with Major Rothrock, Chief Batta and Gary Ruddell, the 377th SFS personnel reliability program officer and a retired Ranger who also works on the combat training exercises. When the heavy doors swung shut, everyone got to work.
Both forces got into position, creating cover where possible. They carried M-4 rifles using simunitions, a detergent-based simulated round that can leave a nasty bruise but is relatively safe up to the 10 foot safety range. Several M249 machine guns were positioned behind mobile body bunkers on top of the loading dock.
"Using simunitions in close quarters teaches you a lot about how to use the weapon," Major Rothrock said.
The echoing tunnel fell silent as a muffled bang preceded the whirring of the doors. Chief Batta gave the signal.
The attackers moved swiftly and from the loading dock machine gun fire responded, forcing the enemy into awkward firing positions. Major Rothrock observed from the dock while Chief Batta and Mr. Ruddell paced and encouraged from the floor.
Even the small amount of gunpowder in the simunitions rounds was enough to fill the air in the enclosed space. It was hot and shouted instructions were nearly impossible to hear in the confusion of continual firing echoing off the walls and floor.
Finally, the attackers were overcome. The Airmen won this time.
The exercise was analyzed on the spot. Leadership made observations and there was a discussion of tactics and responses.
"You need to move, you're going too slow!" Mr. Ruddell said.
They were obviously speaking from experience.
"Load up and switch out. I want to see different tactics on the fence," said Chief Batta.
Several Airmen on the dock discussed the positioning of the body bunkers.
"I love to see young Airmen having a discussion about tactics - they can't visualize the capabilities of these weapons until they do force-on-force," Major Rothrock said.
The next time, the attackers had simulated hand grenades and used them to good effect. The Airmen manning the bunkers were quickly taken out.
"You make it more complicated by steps," Major Rothrock said.
Again the analysis was done on the spot. The clean-up started while discussions continued.
Airman Chris Vigil, 377th SFS participant, was glad to have the opportunity to train in such a realistic way. It was his first time doing force-on-force and he was able to use the M249.
"Learning tactics, how it feels in a real combat situation - it's more realistic than the Miles in terms of not wanting to get hit," he said.
At the end of the afternoon, Major Rothrock trudged up the long ramp to the outside. There was a Humvee waiting at the top.
"You missed a great training," he said to the Airman at the wheel.
"Sir, we can't wait for our flight's turn next week," the Airman replied.
And to a colleague passing by on the concrete path back to air conditioning and water, one last vote of confidence for his Airmen and their skills.
"You just missed the greatest training in the world," he said.