JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas --
Fully-equipped, multi-functional training sites will soon be within easy traveling distance of most civil engineering, force support and security forces units, thanks to the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center.
The Air Force Regional Training Site initiative aims to give commanders the flexibility to conduct unit-led training at a location that is within 400 miles of their installation, helping them maintain readiness and ensure Airmen are prepared to deploy and win future wars, said Col. Lance Turner, AFIMSC Expeditionary Support and Innovation director.
“We don't get to win wars because of what the previous generation of Air Force leaders did,” he said. “We win wars because of what we are doing today and how we are preparing Airmen today. That's what this is all about.”
In addition to filling a critical gap in unit-level preparations for a peer competitor, the sites will offer resources, infrastructure and equipment needed to enable unit-led expeditionary training, provide a scalable training platform and enable multi-functional training for operations in austere, contested environments for more Airmen across the Total Force.
“Think of it as AFIMSC providing the playground,” Turner said, “and when a unit shows up, we hand over the keys to that playground with the space, infrastructure and equipment they need to go through unit-led training.”
A working group including representatives from AFIMSC, Air Force Civil Engineer Center, Air Force Security Forces Center and the Headquarters Air Force Civil Engineer Readiness Division solidified 14 locations for the regional training sites. The list includes expanding capability at current training sites– such as Silver Flag for civil engineering at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, and Desert Defender for security forces at Fort Bliss, Texas – to serve more communities, as well as establishing new multi-functional training sites.
The team will be conducting site surveys over the next several months to identify requirements for expanding each site’s operational capabilities. The training areas must allow for the full range of military operations Airmen must be prepared to execute in future conflicts, that normally can't be conducted at their home stations, said Col. John Grimm, director of operations, training and intelligence for AFSFC.
For the security forces community, that includes shooting, moving and communicating in both the mounted and dismounted patrol environments, full distance live-fire ranges, operational environments supporting urban combat and convoy operations, air operations with small unmanned aerial systems and more.
“The RTS initiative provides the opportunity to build the critical training infrastructure to develop and sustain critical skills ranging from leadership advancements to proper employment of equipment and technologies within a team construct,” he said. “These vital warfighting skills are necessary to support combat operations that are key to meeting our national security strategy.”
Regional training sites serving specific communities aren’t new, said Lt. Col. Kristin Hipps, the initiative lead and AFIMSC Expeditionary Support Division chief, but the AFIMSC effort will give more commanders easier, inexpensive access to training.
“Currently, traveling to training sites designed for expeditionary combat support might be cost prohibitive for some units so we are working to build additional capability. We have 10 active sites capable of unit-led civil engineering, security force or force support training. Our goal is to expand to multi-functional capability at most of those sites and build an additional four sites,” she said.
A nearby training site offers many benefits for units often having to balance readiness training with home-station requirements and distractions, said Lt. Col. Nicholas Pulire, commander of the 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
“If we aren’t able to pick up and leave the base, training will be interrupted,” he said.
The 1st SOCES recently traveled to an RTS on Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia, for five days of field training.
“We connected more as a squadron when we lived, ate and trained together for five days. It is a natural process of teambuilding and one that is very hard to achieve with one (training day) a month (at home station),” he said. “The days of just-in-time training – where our Airmen would go to combat skills training then deploy – are gone. We are in a ready now, fight tonight mindset. We cannot fight tonight without regional training sites nearby, within driving distance, to provide quality and realistic training.”
AFIMSC is planning two proof-of-concept exercises for the RTS initiative this summer with a goal of operationalizing at least one site to fully support cross functional expeditionary training by fiscal year 2024.