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Airman 1st Class Jack Sand, a cargo processing specialist with the 436th Aerial Port Squadron, examines the simulated battlefield as squad mates search for simulated combatants during the Combat Airman Skills Training field training exercise Oct. 25, 2012, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. The FTX tested the skills Airmen learned during the 10-day CAST course. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sam Taylor)
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Out of the frying pan, heading toward the fire

Posted 11/6/2012   Updated 11/6/2012 Email story   Print story


by Airman 1st Class Samuel Taylor
436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs


Rifle muzzles traced left-to-right as the troops entered the earthen village. Apart from the crunch of boots on gravel, there was silence thick as the morning fog that bore the rusty smell of gunpowder.

From windows and fence gaps, eyes scanned over the squad. Some inhabitants ducked into doorways and alcoves; others ventured out to face the uninvited visitors, their forceful mutterings swelling into aggravating shouts.

"Watch them!" called a voice from the left-hand column. "Stay sharp!" shouted Senior Master Sgt. Daniel Spain from the opposite column.

The uproar from the villagers increased with each step the troops took toward them until the village was a throbbing cacophony, pierced only by a high whistle that rose above the din. The screech amplified until it burst into a thunderclap that scattered the locals like a startled herd.

The village exploded with the crack-crack of flaming gunfire. The troops let loose with their rifles, firing into every muzzle flash, surging like floodwater through the village street until they spilled out into a clearing. Senior Airman Jonathon Martin dropped into cover behind dense shrubbery as the squad focused their fire against the insurgents who howled battled cries as they fired.

One by one, the troops' bullets found flesh, dropping insurgents who squeezed off a few final rounds in their death-throes. Only one remained hidden behind a white-sand mound, shouting defiantly as he clutched his rifle.

"Sand, go kill that guy!" barked the squad leader.

"Yes sir!" cried the young Airman as he bolted to his feet and lunged forward with raised rifle. He charged over the hill, his roar of "America!" drowned out only by the rattle of his rifle.

"Okay! Terminate!" called a voice from behind.


Airman 1st Class Jack Sand watched as his felled adversary regained his feet and brushed the powdery New Jersey dirt from his fatigues. Sand turned to the cadre member that had been shadowing the flight during the exercise.

"Guys, I'm not going to lie, that was near-perfect," began Nick Luciano, a cadre member with Combat Airman Skills Training. "I mean it: that was probably the best [...] run-through ever."

Spain, Martin and Sand, all members of the 436th Aerial Port Squadron, stood together in mud-encrusted uniforms tinted evac-smoke purple, grinning as Luciano listed the portions of the training they had applied correctly.

"Convoy teams: you guys located all the IEDs super quick. Control teams: you were excellent as well; you went through that village with your rifles pointed exactly where they were supposed to go," said the cadre member. "Sand, that charge was awesome."

Sand chuckled - it was his first time going through CAST in preparation for his first deployment. He said the experience was one he will remember while downrange.


"I'll put it this way: I am nervous because it's my first time downrange, but I now know that I can handle almost anything that happens over there," said Sand, a native of Lake Forest, Ill. "This training has given me confidence that is going to make a big difference."

For the past 10 days, Sand and 19 other members of the 436th APS endured grueling training designed to teach Airmen how to navigate unfamiliar terrain, perform life-saving techniques while under fire, engage enemy targets, operate tactical vehicles, detect roadside bombs and survive in hostile conditions.

Martin, another first-time deployer, said that in addition to the skills learned, the Port Dawgs' camaraderie was boosted.

"I feel like we really came together as a team," said the native of Fresno, Calif. "We ate, worked and sweated together. It's a big confidence boost to know that my friends have my back while I am downrange."

It was friendship and reliance on one another that kept the young Airmen's spirits up when the training got rough. It is a bond that will be mercilessly tested, but if the Airmen of the Department of Defense's largest aerial port have proven anything, it is their ability to deliver when it counts.

"I know these guys and I know they are looking out for me," said Sand. "Now, I feel like I can look out for them, too."

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