TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. –
The 137th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron (SOCES) joined Airmen from across the total force to participate in Silver Flag, a two-week training exercise for combat support teams, Sept. 12-22, 2022, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.
The 12 Oklahoma Air National Guardsmen, from six different civil engineering specialties, gained skills in Rapid Airfield Damage Repair (RADR) and establishing, operating and recovering a base in a contingency environment.
“The thing I’ve enjoyed most about Silver Flag, especially in the second week, is the chaos,” said Senior Airman Cody Burnett, a power production specialist with the 137th SOCES. “A lot of the time during a scenario the instructors eliminate our senior leadership, so that requires a lot of Airmen in my role to step up and basically take charge of the situation to get everyone focused and back on track for the initial task that we were trying to accomplish.”
The 801st Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers (RED HORSE) Training Squadron conducts high-end training exercises for combat support teams to practice real-world skills.
“The main goal is for this training to help Airmen gain confidence in their abilities as we shift focus to the near-peer fight,” said Master Sgt. Brad Johannes, 801st RED HORSE training squadron section chief of operations engineering and the course director for Silver Flag course 22-13. “Everything here is training toward combat support tasks for a quick recovery response, and this site is the prime opportunity for anyone who integrates outside of their career field to do it in a controlled environment so they are more fully ready when they get the call.”
Training on RADR was conducted the first week, with around 90 Airmen from across Air Force active duty, Reserve and Guard. The team set a record for laying a concrete cap on the second day of training and for the exercise on the third day. The Silver Flag portion is conducted over the second week and is a readiness event that is focused on challenging the combat support teams’ ability to operate when faced with obstacles that impact their ability to conduct operations.
“We do our home station training then come here and put it all together to accomplish that mission with our total force partners, so it really falls in line with how the 137th Special Operations Wing is developing multi-capable and multi-functional Airmen as part of our Mission Sustainment Teams,” said Maj. Mark Noteboom, 137th SOCES deputy commander who acted as the unit control center commander for civil engineering during the exercise. “It’s kind of a full circle opportunity for us to work alongside our fellow Air Commandos as there are Airmen here from Canon Air Force Base in New Mexico, which is where some of our Guardsmen are currently embedded with their MST.”
Working alongside a team of over 200 active, Guard and Reserve Airmen stationed at Air Force and Space Force bases, the 137th SOCES members also experienced a variety of mission support functions as part of the exercise, including force support, logistics readiness, contracting and finance.
“We are empowering everyone here at the lower levels to make sure they are all communicating in the field and helping each other,” said Noteboom. “No one is going to be able to do the job without the other groups whether at home station, conducting domestic operations or deployed overseas, so this training reinforces how important practicing in a total force setting is for real-world scenarios.”
The 137th civil engineers from structures, power production, HVAC, pavements and construction equipment, and engineering spent three days conducting operations in a simulated combat environment. Being comfortable using the equipment and practicing quick responses to any mission critical goal, whether power outages, damaged airfields or establishing shelters, can make a difference when dealing with real-world scenarios downrange.
“Getting comfortable with contingency and deployed operations here at Silver Flag means we are able to pretty much bed down a full tent city and to also produce a lot of high-voltage power plant operations,” Burnett said. “A lot of these power units you don’t really see except overseas so it’s a lot of our first times being able to get our hands on that equipment.”
Burnett also has lessons learned to be shared with the Mission Sustainment Team and his unit.
“At home station I definitely would be able to implement how we are laying down our tent cities and ways that we’re able to store our generators in different locations so that, if attacked, it would prevent us losing necessary assets for operations,” Burnett said.
As a readiness event, Silver Flag allows individuals to understand how important it is to look beyond their own specialty to help the team get the mission done when it all goes wrong.
“With my experience from the MST, I am kind of used to working with different squadrons and Air Force Specialties, so that has actually helped me a lot during Silver Flag,” Burnett said. “Everyone has their own different culture and different way of handling things at different speeds, but it’s really helpful getting used to how different shops, specialties and squadrons communicate with each other because on deployment we’re going to be working together.”
Noteboom feels that the Total Force concept is about teamwork — which seems simple, but when it fails it can impact all levels of the mission.
“It’s a domino effect where one thing affects another which affects another and so on,” Noteboom said. “The team out here working should see that they do directly affects the mission even if they are considered a mission support function and not an operational function. Without them, it can’t happen so the key experience is practicing long hours, hard work, planning, sweating … whatever it takes to get the job done.”