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Eyes Wide Open: Shoot, Move, Communicate

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Gage Daniel
  • 94th Airlift Wing

The sun is rising, penetrating deep into the woods of rural Alabama, and the morning dew is evaporating. While the water radiates into the air, it also collects on your uniform, lining the inside and outside of every pocket and stitch, weighing you down step by step. Suddenly, a noise to the left. Senses are heightened, but you lower your guard with the realization that it was only a pinecone. Only a moment later, a loud “crack!” No one in sight, but before you lock your eyes ahead again, “bang, bang” begins to ring out from the woods and the words “shoot, move, communicate” begin to flash behind your eyes as you move together, wandering in the woods as part of the 94th Security Forces Squadron Annual Training at Fort McClellan, Al.

“Let’s say you’re in a team of seven, you get to a field, and you’re getting shot at,” said Airman 1st Class Mariana Johnson, 94th SFS response force member. “When they shoot at you, you get off of the X. Now they’ve shot, you’ve moved, and you communicate and return fire upon the enemy.”

Recently, members from the 94th SFS were flown and bussed to eastern Alabama where they would spend the week on varying training sites performing a plethora of drills.

“In preparation for our deployment, we were essentially doing contingency training that included dismounted operations and air base defense,” said Senior Master Sgt. Timothy Morrison, 94th SFS superintendent. “Airmen took part in triage medical care, combat patrols, building clearing, mission planning and execution, setting up security for air base defense and operating air base defense.”

Airmen spent the week split up between two locations, practicing general drills at both areas, and some specific training at each.

“Simulating deployment is our main focus,” said Senior Airman Lee Frazier, 94th SFS response force member. “With that, we’ve practiced a lot of geography, land-navigation, to infiltrate and then defend a base.”

After navigating the area and taking over a location, members would set up around the area, taking watch of their sector, keeping in communication with the base defense operations center, while awaiting the next event. One of these scenarios took place at the front gate.

“I was guarding the entry control point,” said Senior Airman Bethany Owens, 94 SFS response force member. “While we were up there they tried to gain entry to the base and threw water balloons at us. That was nice, but all of the training was to get us combat ready.”

Though already tasked with the regular deployment cycle, members from the 94th SFS can also be activated outside of the typical rotation in many parts of the world.

“The training we are doing is important. We want to keep their skills sharp and keep them combat ready," Morrison said. "There's a chance that they're going to be asked to go into harm's way and use these skills in defense of other Airmen and even sister-service individuals. Our big mission set is base defense. Personnel resource protection is kind of our bread and butter, so in order to be good at that, we have to train and keep our skills sharp.”

With all of the demands placed on Security Forces Airmen, for their safety and the safety of others, annual training is one of the best opportunities to assemble and train together.

“AT is the one legitimate time per year that we can put them physically and mentally to a test and push them to see what they know and to see what their breaking points are,” said Master Sgt. Travis Stephens 94th SFS non-commissioned officer-in-charge (NCOIC) of standards and evaluations. “With this, they can learn for themselves and we can build up the training from year to year.”

The training the Airmen go through is not meant to be easy, but to provide a safe place for failure and to learn from mistakes.

“Being out here physically makes you tougher,” Frazier said. “And the trials we go through makes us mentally tougher, and we can bring that back to Dobbins.”

Leaders from the SFS aim to make the training as realistic as possible to prepare Airmen for a wide-variety of instances they may face stateside or around the world.

“We pay attention to what's going on,” said Morrison. “With Security Forces Airmen across the globe, we read the after-action forms from downrange situations and we try to tailor our training to those lessons learned.”

During all of the training, officers, senior NCOs and NCOs aim to prepare the lower enlisted response force leaders and subject matter experts.

“We believe that we're the premier Security Forces unit in the command, and that’s what we preach to our Airmen,” Morrison said. “And in order for that to be true, we've got to give them quality training, we've got to give them realistic training, and we’ve got to challenge them physically and mentally. We owe them quality training to ensure their skills are sharp for them to go downrange, be successful, and come back at the end of their tour. So how do we prepare them? We try to give them as realistic, challenging training as we can.”

To posture as the premiere Security Forces Squadron in the Air Force Reserve Command, the squadron focuses on allowing their senior NCOs to lead by example and develop their Airmen.

“We have a fantastic group of senior NCOs who lead by example and who develop their Airmen,” Morrison said. “They don't just sit on the side when training is happening, they participate in the training. They show our Airmen what right looks like. Like I was saying, we think we're the premier unit and a lot of that has to do with the quality of training we produce. But it also has to do with the buy- in that we have from our leaders into what we're doing.”

When it comes to motivation and buy-in from the lower-enlisted, the aim of the SFS is to shift their focus from standard admin duties to immersive training activities.

“Lower ranking personnel need to get their hands dirty and need to get buy-in, and that’s what motivates them, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Stephens said. “That, to me, is what is going to put them on track to compete with another country or other forces if they go to combat or have to go defend an airbase against an enemy, and that's what we're striving for.”

In the end, the key to success is training for the one percent, according to Stephens.

“Security Forces has always been bad in the past for saying, ‘Well, we're living under the guise of that's never gonna happen, that's never gonna happen, we don't need to train for that, that's never gonna happen,” said Stephens. “The problem is, if you train for the one percent, people wonder 99 percent of the time, ‘Why are you wasting your time training for that?’ But the problem is that the one percent is what's going to get you killed. So if you're not training for the one percent of the time, you're just not going to be successful when that time hits, and then all the other stuff you'll find out is frivolous, because they weren't trained 99 percent of the time to meet the demand for the one percent.”