[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                               September 12, 2008

Air Force personnel training to 
support Army during deployment

By Tom Michele, The Real McCoy Contributor

The U.S. Air Force doesnít just "fly" in the "wild blue yonder" while their Army cousins are slugging it out in the trenches on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Photo: U.S. Air Force Maj. Roberta Ernest talks about mobilization to a group of Airmen assembled at Fort McCoy for mobilization. Ernest is with the organization that handles administrative tasks for Airmen. (Photo by Tom Michele)
U.S. Air Force Maj. Roberta Ernest talks about mobilization to a group of Airmen assembled at Fort McCoy for mobilization. Ernest is with the organization that handles administrative tasks for Airmen. (Photo by Tom Michele)

Subsequently there is a distinct Air Force presence on the ground at Fort McCoy.

"About 1,500 airmen have come through Fort McCoy for combat skills training since March," Maj. Roberta Ernest said. Ernest is the commander of Detachment 7, 602nd Training Group (Provisional).

"The important thing about the Air Force going through combat skills training at Fort McCoy is the recognition that our nationís Airmen are increasing the direct support of ground combat support and combat-service-support missions side-by-side with their Soldier counterparts," Ernest said.

The Army had some personnel voids to fill, according to the Air Force officer.

"The combatant commander asked for help from the Secretary of Defense, and the Army, Air Force and Navy set up the Joint Sourcing Training Oversight (JSTO) program to ensure our Airmen and Sailors have the current ground combat skills necessary to effectively support the joint/coalition team."

But many Airmen have had only limited ground combat skills training because only a minimum skill set is necessary in support of some Air Force core missions, Ernest explained. "So, Airmen come to Fort McCoy to learn or improve their ground combat skills."

Ernest emphasized, "Airmen come to McCoy to be trained by the people who have experience in combat skills, specifically the Army."

Airmen are trained to the U.S. Central Command minimum theater entry requirements in accordance with the JSTO mission they will support; to learn basic ground combat skill sets, Ernest said. JSTO has become an Army, Air Force and Navy term for such training.

Master Sgt. Keith Vernon, the detachmentís acting first sergeant, said, "Airmen donít do the Sol-dierís Creed. Airmen do the Airmenís Creed. By that, I mean, Airmen retain their identity as Airmen even in the joint and/or coalition environments."

Vernon said training an Airman gets in combat skills training includes small-arms marksmanship, convoy operations, combat life saver, land navigation, setting up an effective perimeter and treating wounded personnel.

Those small arms include crew-served weapons requiring two people to effectively deploy and fire that weapon system.

Familiarization with the dangers of improvised explosive devices is on the Airmenís training list, although, and somewhat like their Soldier counterparts, handling of explosives is performed by explosives ordnance specialists.

"We do get familiarization on various weapons systems, but we donít go so far as to become qualified on them," Vernon said. "It is very important that Airmen learn and perform basic combat skills to save the lives of their joint or coalition teammates just like their Soldier counterparts."

Ernest said, "Itís very important to effectively function and perform so you Ďshoot, move, communicate and treat,í in the same manner as a Soldier, and not become a liability to your team, or a statistic. We learn the tactics that are current and relevant for operations on a distributed battlefield."

Vernon said, "These basic combat skills are a great confidence booster so Airmen will be more prepared to handle combat situations when they go down range, assist Soldiers and quite possibly have to defend themselves and their joint or coalition teammates."

"Several of our Airmen thought they wouldnít go outside the wire (base perimeter)," Vernon said, "but they soon learned they were part of a convoy to go from one base point to another, and then became engaged in combat along the way. Many Airmen have e-mailed back to us their thanks for the great training they have received. We have received many such stories."

"Airmen come here with a Warrior Airman mindset and leave with a well-rounded Joint Warrior Airman mindset," Vernon concluded.

Detachment 7 handles the administrative tasks for mobilizing Airmen. There are similar detachments at Forts Dix, Lewis, Bragg, Riley, Bliss, Sill and Camp Atterbury.

The 602nd Training Group is headquartered at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. The training at Fort McCoy is conducted by the 181st Infantry Brigade, the trainers for all of the mobilization at Fort McCoy.

(Michele is a public affairs specialist for Eagle Systems and Services Inc., contractor for CONUS Support Base Services.)


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