Teaching 'airpower ... from the ground up': U.S. Air Force expeditionary center takes airmen to a new level in job, deployment preparation.
Senior Airman Bassel Noori rides in the turret of a Humvee on a Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., range. A voice crackles from his radio as the driver shares information with five other tactical vehicles as they snake their way through South Jersey's Pine Barrens.
Suddenly, the heavy hum of the trucks' diesel engines is overpowered by a deafening BOOOOOOOOOM! then the "RAP, RAP, RAP!" of an adversary's AK-47. The M-16 in Airman Noori's hands rattles into action, and he responds with his own fire: "BAP, BAP, BAP!"
Under attack from "opposing forces," Airman Noori discovers the lead Humvee in his convoy is down. Leaping from his vehicle, he removes the injured from the disabled truck. A nearby comrade pops open a smoke canister, creating a billowing, purple smoke screen.
Quickly assessing the wounded for injuries, Airman Noori administers first aid, bandages wounds and helps carry the injured to another Humvee. Within seconds, the convoy presses forward to a safety zone.
"Scenario over. Let's gather up," yells instructor Staff Sgt. Paul Evans, his voice ending the drama like a filmmaker's clapboard as he jumps from the back of the last truck.
"Time for feedback," he orders.
In the deployed theater, casualties can't be simulated. Supporting numerous combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, 45 Airmen have been killed in combat and more than 500 wounded since 2001, according to recent Department of Defense statistics. More than 71 percent of the 330,000 active-duty Airmen, along with their Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve teammates, have deployed since then.
Ensuring the bad guys lose and the good guys stay alive is no easy task for Sergeant Evans and the more than 300 instructor cadre who are assigned to the 360-member staff of the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center located on the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
CENTER OF EXCELLENCE
The center's staff is responsible for sharpening the warfighting skills of Airmen with just-in-time training before they deploy. The Expeditionary Center stretches across 34 acres, encompassing a state-of-the-art headquarters and utilitarian barracks to house the more than 7,000 students annually for combat skills training. Additionally, through its campus at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and detachments at Hurlburt Field, Fla., and Scott AFB, Ill., an additional 16,000 students complete courses online and in-residence. The center staff also uses the sprawling woodlands of the South Jersey area, more than 22,000 acres of ranges, for weapons and survival training.
When it was created as an "air mobility" center of excellence about 15 years ago in 1994, by then-Air Mobility Command Commander Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, the center was called the Air Mobility Warfare Center. His original vision was to consolidate all global reach training, curriculum and tactics development and sustainment training under a single AMC organization.
Since then, the Expeditionary Center's mission has expanded. Renamed March 4, 2007, its staff not only helps create mobility experts, they also prepare Airmen for deployment. The center cadre does this through its Mobility Operations School, Expeditionary Operations School and the Expeditionary Center Resources Directorate.
An official charter signed by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz has given the center a boost, focusing its mission on advanced training and distinguishing it from other training centers, such as those operated by Air Education and Training Command officials.
"A large part of our credibility came when the chief of staff signed our charter, tasking us to be that advanced center for expeditionary skills, to provide those tactics, techniques and procedures that our young Airmen need to be successful in any contingency, and make sure we disseminate that capability to the field," said Maj. Gen. Kip Self, the center's commander.
"Fifteen years ago, that early mission helped develop what we see today in the Expeditionary Center. It's been a great 15 years of development," General Self said. "The center has constantly adapted to the needs of the Air Force to be on the leading edge. That continues today in all facets of our training, bringing the most current tactics, techniques and procedures into our classrooms. That's why we're so proud of branding a phrase I've coined: 'Airpower ... From the Ground Up!'"
As military officials increase the number of troops destined for Afghanistan and tap more Reservists and Guardsmen to fill shortfalls in positions originally intended to be filled by civilians, the critical warfighting and survival skills taught by Expeditionary Center instructors are needed now more than ever, said General Self, who manages the center on an annual budget of more than $22.6 million.
"We're basically the '911' of providing contingency response in terms of expeditionary skills training," he said. "When the Air Force chief of staff talks about us being 'all in,' it's here at the center where we are developing that Airman to be prepared to operate 'all in' at any time."
"Besides supporting an excellent mission of expeditionary and mobility training, our facilities are top notch," said Capt. Todd Caskey, deputy director of the resources directorate. "In my experience, the Expeditionary Center rivals any of the best training institutions anywhere."
Across the street from the Expeditionary Center's main building are two three-story dormitories. Both are used by 421st Combat Training Squadron personnel. Part of each building is used as offices for the 421's "black hats," the more than 120 instructors from nearly 40 different career fields. Each instructor has to earn the black tab emblazoned on the front of his hat.
"In my squadron, we are all focused on being contingency skills instructors," said Lt. Col. Mitchell Monroe, commander, 421st CTS. "We recently had a tab ceremony after seven of my cadre attained their instructor status. Most all of our instructors come to us hand-picked. When they apply, we take a look at their record and their physical fitness level and we determine if they will be a good fit for us."
Once selected, instructors, no matter the career field, begin their training, which can take up to six months before they are certified. They attend an in-house session of instructor training called the Academic Instructor Course. From there, if the 421st instructors have not recently deployed, then they go through their primary course of instruction as a student.
"For example, if you are going to be teaching in ACST, then you'll first go through that course as a student. If you're security forces, you'll go through our Phoenix Warrior course," Colonel Monroe said.
All instructors attend the Academic Instructor Course taught by the Resource Directorate's Instructional System Design Division.
"This training starts them off by ensuring they understand they are a professional instructor," said Mr. Philip Mohasci, division director. "They are a certified member of the Air University community and they are accredited instructors. They are accredited and the result is their students earn Community College of the Air Force credits for attending their courses."
All 421st CST instructors have to learn dismounted tactics as their first course of instruction and then be evaluated on it.
"To us, dismounted tactics is the absolute basic core of what we do," Colonel Monroe said. "If the worst happens, and you now find yourself engaged with the enemy, you've got to disengage and be able to find yourself a place where you can secure yourself and wait until the quick-reaction force comes. That's what dismounted tactics are all about--shoot, move, communicate and self-medicate."
TRAINING IS GROWING, WORKING
The Expeditionary Operations School's 421st CTS staff manages the center's advanced contingency skills courses and provides training that Airman Noori experienced. Colonel Monroe said the training they give is "above and beyond" what's taught at the wing level.
"Airmen who are in joint engagement training will go through combat skills run by the Army," Colonel Monroe said. "There are two other venues in the continental U.S. alone that hold combat skills training--Camp Guernsey, Wyo., and Camp Bullis, Texas. All three venues--Guernsey, Bullis and the Expeditionary Center--will all eventually be teaching the exact same skill sets in the Combat Airman Skills Training that are established by AETC."
CAST is a standardized set of 96 hours of contingency skills training for deploying Airmen, said Colonel Monroe. Within that set of hours, deploying Airmen receive training in dismounted patrol tactics, mounted patrol or convoy tactics, military operations in urban terrain, "combatives," or ground fighting, and more.
"What's different about our Advanced Contingency Skills Training, for example, is we have lead-in tracks for all deploying chaplains, chaplain assistants, and judge advocates and paralegals," Colonel Monroe said.
That lead-in training has paid off. One former graduate said what he learned helped prepare him for the unexpected.
"I went through the Advanced Contingency Skills Training Course and the Judge Advocate portion in February and March of 2008," said Capt. Andrew Barker a legal officer from F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo. "After training, I deployed to the International Zone in Iraq. While in Baghdad, I found myself in a position where I had to help two Soldiers clear several rooms in an occupied building in the Red Zone. It wasn't as dramatic as it could have been, and it turned out that there was very little danger, but I didn't know that until we had finished the job. I'm very glad that I had the training and weapons familiarization from ACST."
Colonel Monroe said the bottom line is, as a service, Airmen are being sent into harm's way more now than ever before. Through courses like ACST, Airmen are getting the training they need to make it home safely.
"Whether it is in one of the deployed zones like Iraq or Afghanistan, or preparing them to respond anywhere the national command authority decides to send them, we owe Airmen the training so they're fully prepared to be able to survive, operate and return home," he said.
CREATING MOBILITY, CONTINGENCY EXPERTS
In a darkened classroom in the Mobility Operations School's mobile command, control and communications, or mobile C3, facility, Staff Sgt. Jamie Widrig uses a computer-generated illustrator called a "smart board" to highlight schematics for a large generator for her students in the school's Mobile Command and Control Generator Course.
"If this line is not connected, the generator just won't work," she said. "If you can't get this generator to work now, how will you get it to work when it's 100 degrees outside at some forward operating base? We have to know this."
Meanwhile, in the main building of the Expeditionary Center, students in MOS' Advanced Study of Air Mobility, or ASAM, program are combing through the fine details of the air mobility business. ASAM, an in-residence intermediate developmental education program specifically tailored to further the professional development of mobility officers, follows a 13-month curriculum. ASAM graduates receive a master of logistics degree from the Air Force Institute of Technology.
"ASAM is the inspiration of General Fogleman," said MOS Director Rudy Becker. "While commander of U.S. Transportation Command and AMC, he recognized the need for an educational program to bridge the tanker and airlift missions, and mold future Air Force leaders with a thorough knowledge of air mobility. He envisioned an educational experience that would provide graduates the tools and training to address world-wide mobility and deployment issues now, and cultivate a core of mobility experts to lead AMC in the future."
It's this kind of training that Mr. Becket calls "velocity in training."
"The ultimate vision of our school's training is simple," Mr. Becker said. "We mirror the mission environment that our Airmen will be working in as closely as possible, so when they show up at the worksite, either in-garrison or deployed, their first impression is, Tve been here before, and I'm ready.'"
The MOS, through 73 in-residence and online courses, prepares Airmen in operations, logistics, transportation, maintenance, aircrew resource management and command and control from both a global and theater perspective.
To ensure Airmen are ready, MOS cadre use technology and simulation along with skilled instructors from across the mobility spectrum.
Sergeants Widrig's class and ASAM are just two examples of MOS' "velocity." In Master Sgt. Chris Sherman's course, the MOS Mobility Air Forces Mobile Command and Control Leadership Course, the effort is about making Airmen better by creating contingency response leaders.
The course teaches Airmen, both officer and enlisted, to become better leaders as contingency response element commanders, or contingency response team chiefs. Students have to learn every possible aspect of what they could face as leaders, and Sergeant Sherman said he often receives feedback about his students leading the way across the globe.
"It's rewarding to see my students out there influencing world events," said Sergeant Sherman. "Whether it's a mission to Tiblisi, Georgia; delivering relief supplies to Darfur; or supporting our citizens during Hurricane Ike, my students are there leading those air mobility support operations. They are leaders in action."
Senior Master Sgt. Greg Lucas, airfield services manager for the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Contingency Response Group at Louisville--the first-ever ANG contingency response group created--said his training in Sergeant Sherman's course not only helped him but also his fellow Airmen.
"When you are in a contingency environment, you can face many challenges," Sergeant Lucas said. "The knowledge I gained from the course helps me to be ready for those challenges and furthered my leadership skills. It also helps me help my Airmen be leaders, especially if we are deployed somewhere."
Back outside at the mobile C3 facility, Tech. Sgt. Don Colbert, course director for the MOS Mobile C3 Systems Course works on the new hard-sided expandable lightweight air mobile shelter, or HELAMS. The mobile air shelter is the latest of its kind the Air Force has to offer, and Sergeant Colbert said it is among many things the Expeditionary Center and MOS have on hand for training.
"HELAMS will eventually replace the mobile air reporting communications shelter that's in use today," said Sergeant Colbert. "By replacing the MARC, which was put into service in the mid-1980s, the HELAMS provides for more work space and a new high-frequency radio system that requires less power to operate.
HELAMS provides mobility forces the best equipment available to complete their duties in a bare-base environment," Sergeant Colbert said. "Our students have that available to them here to be ready for the future."
Airmen in the air transportation career field, also known as "aerial porters," also get advanced training at the MOS. Air transportation Airmen have 13 of the center's 16 online courses available to them and have in-residence courses such as the Aerial Port Operations Course, or APOC, which is held approximately 12 times a year. APOC instructors give students a "walkaround" of the entire aerial port to include air freight, passenger service, air terminal operations center and functions done at higher headquarters, such as AMC.
"This course gives them a chance to learn about the processes that are going on in the other sections, providing a much a bigger picture," said Tech. Sgt. James Carson III, course director. "When on deployments, this kind of training pays off for aerial porters. A deployed aerial porter doesn't always have the time to ask why things are done in this sequence or why we use certain methods."
General Self said the MOS prepares mobility Airmen to attain their core vision of global reach laydown.
"Air Mobility Command stretches globally," said General Self. "It has the ability to get the beans and bullets to the warfighter in any location in the world through their en route system. And where there are no en route systems, those contingency response wings owned by AMC, are taught here in their formal training unit, and are able to open a base so that we have access.
"Clearly, having access is a key piece to being expeditionary," said General Self. "You never know where the next contingency will be and you have to be ready to go. Air Mobility Command's en route system and ability to open up bases anywhere in the world are key to that global reach. The Expeditionary Center's piece to that is to train those Airmen who execute that mission."
DEVELOPING DEPLOYMENT-READY AIRMEN
The EOS faculty educates and trains expeditionary combat support Airmen in deployed operations through courses such as Advanced Contingency Skill Training for all combat support specialties, Phoenix Warrior and Phoenix Raven for security forces and the Force Protection Intelligence Formal Training Unit for the intelligence field.
Phoenix Raven Training is one of the oldest courses taught at the EOS. Started in 1997, it is an intense 18-day training program that covers cross-cultural awareness, embassy operations, airfield survey techniques, explosive ordnance awareness, aircraft searches and unarmed self-defense techniques. Since its inception, fewer than 2,000 Airmen. including members of other services, have earned the Raven patch.
"I really enjoyed it," said Navy Master at Arms Seaman Kyle Reed from Naval Air Station North Island, near San Diego, who attended the course in February. "Raven training gave me some useful skills to use if I need them in protecting an aircraft. The training was some of the best I've ever received."
Besides Phoenix Raven, security forces Airmen also receive advanced contingency skills training through the Phoenix Warrior Course, which started in August 2006. It has evolved to meet the shifting tactics of the deployed environment.
The EOS staff provides some of the newest equipment for its students. Recent upgrades in the training vehicle fleet include the addition of mine resistant ambush protective vehicles, up-armored Humvees and the light medium tactical vehicle. School officials also manage an armory, which has the largest store of foreign weapons in the Air Force. It stockpiles 153 different types of foreign and nonstandard weapons. such as the AK-47, AK-74 and MAK-90 automatic rifles.
"We have the foreign weapons, so our students can be familiarized with the weapons used by our adversaries," said Tech. Sgt. Charles Glunt, armory NCO in charge. "When you hear the 'rap, rap, rap' from an AK-47, you never forget it."
HAVING RESOURCES TO MEET EMERGING MISSIONS
The Resources Directorate staff manages the center's campus through a multitude of mission-support functions, including budget management, resource allocation and facility management. It also is the home of the Faculty and Curriculum Development Division, which develops and certifies courses and trains new instructors in the Academic Instructor Course.
"This training starts by ensuring our cadre understand they are professional instructors," said Mr. Philip Mohasci, division director. "They are certified members of the Air University community and they are accredited instructors. As a result of accreditation, students earn Community College of the Air Force credits for attending these courses."
BRINGING AIRMEN HOME
Airman Noori said the combat scenario played out in the Pine Barrens of the joint base helped him survive the gritty sands of Iraq.
"The convoy and military operations in urban terrain training were the two aspects of training from the Expeditionary Center that helped me in Iraq," said Airman Noori, who served as a security forces augmentee while deployed from MacDill AFB, Fla. "The training (I) and the other students received (was) based off real-world experiences, and I honor (the Expeditionary Center cadre's) service and wisdom for helping bring me home."
Editor's note: Chief Master Sgt. Paula Paige, Staff Sgt. Nathan Bevier and Staff Sgt. Paul Evans contributed to this story.
U.S. AIR FORCE EXPEDITIONARY CENTER AT A GLANCE
Commander: Maj. Gen. Kip L. Self
Operating locations: Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. (Headquarters); Hurlburt Field, Fla. (Det. 1); Scott Air Force Base, Ill. (Det. 2)
Assigned schools, departments: Mobility Operations School, Expeditionary Operations School, Resources Directorate, 421st Combat Training Squadron
Annual budget: $22.6 million
Personnel assigned: Overall, 360 (Active duty and Reserve, 262; government civilians, 60; contractors 38)
Annual graduates: More than 23,000, including online grads (Note: CCAF credits are awarded for nearly all courses, both in residence and online.)
Slogan: "Airpower ... From the Ground Up!"
Origin: First established in May 1994, as Air Mobility Warfare Center; renamed U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center in March 2007
STORY AND PHOTOS BY TECH. SGT. SCOTT STURKOL * DESIGN BY LUKE BORLAND
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|Date:||Jul 1, 2009|
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