By Maj. Amanda Reeves, 919th Special Operations Wing
/ Published May 14, 2019
DUKE FIELD, Fla. -- In a densely wooded area in northwest Florida, a group of security forces defenders move as small teams through the trees constantly communicating and pushing forward toward their objective. Alert and lethal, an outside observer would have no idea that each team was comprised of Citizen Airmen from units across the total force spectrum.
This was the picture painted when members of the 919th Special Operations Wing conducted a joint field exercise April 22 - May 6, 2019, to improve their readiness for modern counterinsurgency operations.
The exercise, hosted by the 919th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron, united squadrons and personnel from seven different wings across the entire total force spectrum. Participants included defenders from the 919th SOSFS, 920th Security Forces Squadron, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., 153rd SFS, Cheyenne Air National Guard Base, Wyo., and 841st Missile Security Forces Squadron, Malmstrom AFB, Mont.
The scenario challenged participants to recognize, plan, and implement various security and force protection operations based on the events occurring around them.
“Our goal was really to get our guys thinking more,” said Senior Master Sgt. Casey Karins, 919th SOSFS operations superintendent. “We wanted to show them how intelligence analysis affects them at all levels. It helps them understand how they fit in, and that they are the foundation of our operations.”
Intelligence injects took the form of real-world scenarios, including cell phone exploitation, interviews with persons of interest, and vehicle searches. This added level of realism allowed the defenders to think through each scenario, rather than simply executing skills by rote memorization.
The two-week exercise, which took nearly a full year to plan, was the result of leveraging personal relationships built and maintained by 919th SOW Citizen Air Commandos. People, equipment, and expertise were all allocated to the exercise largely based on the personal networks of the Airmen involved.
Tents were provided by RED HORSE civil engineer specialists from nearby Tyndall AFB, Fla. The 919th Special Operations Force Support Squadron set up a field kitchen and provided hot meals throughout the training. Communications support and connectivity was assured by the 919th Special Operations Communications Squadron, with equipment on loan from the 96th Test Wing, Eglin AFB, FL.
Even the exercise participants became involved thanks to active networking.
“When I first had the idea for this exercise, I reached out to a former colleague,” said Karins. “We had both moved to different units and he is now with the 153rd (Wyoming Air National Guard). I asked him if he’d be interested in planning this with me, and he was completely on board.”
The opportunity to train with counterparts from across the total force spectrum is uncommon, and came with enormous benefits for all involved. Information sharing and the chance to establish more extensive personal networks were just a few of the advantages.
“This is a rare opportunity,” said Capt. Samuel Taylor, 919th SOSFS commander. “We have the knowledge and expertise built into our team, and we’ve been able to capitalize on that and help other units along the way.”
By planning and hosting this exercise, the 919th SOW did more than just help other units—they directly contributed to increasing all of the participants’ readiness and lethality. In less than two weeks, the exercise fulfilled the requirements of a four-year training cycle. For Reserve Citizen Airmen who operate on an extremely condensed schedule, this is a huge achievement.
The first several days of the exercise focused on training, while the latter half moved into 24/7 scenario-based operations. This particular scenario focused on support to counterinsurgency efforts, and was driven by humanitarian aid and medical missions.
Although it focused on security forces mission sets, the exercise offered an additional level of reality by actively including several other units and their capabilities. Medical support and training were provided by the 919th Special Operations Medical Squadron, and the 711th Special Operations Squadron even assisted with airlift.
“We made a commitment to provide more real-world training experiences to our members,” said Lt. Col. Gregg Russell, 919th SOMDS. “We were excited to integrate, participate, and show-off our own skills—taking care of people.”
The 919th SOMDS integrated seamlessly into the exercise, providing instruction, real-world medical support, and exercise-related medical response. Approximately 10 doctors, nurses, and medics participated, some even bedding down at the site.
“Everyone was eager to participate with other units and in a complex situation,” said Russell. “Our people want to practice, and this was fantastic opportunity to rehearse scenarios we don’t normally encounter.”
Throughout the exercise, participants practiced land navigation, small unit tactics, battlefield first aid, and other expeditionary skills. They also conducted team building exercises and field-tested new equipment.
“We’re hoping to demonstrate increased capability and a better way of doing things,” said Taylor. “By testing tactics and equipment here, we can demonstrate what works and make the case to modernize our gear and propose new ways of doing business.”
This innovative approach to training enabled the Citizen Air Commandos of the 919th to increase the readiness and lethality of defenders across the Total Force.