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Dover’s Engineers: Leading the Way in Mission Readiness

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Aaron J. Jenne
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Eighty-two members of the 436th Civil Engineer Squadron conducted a four-day field training exercise Sept. 20 – 24, 2017, at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, the first of its sort in Air Mobility Command in more than a decade.

The Total Force training initiative included Reserve Airmen from the 512th CES and the Air National Guard’s 201st Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron, Engineer (REDHORSE) Squadron. The event focused on developing fundamental, hands-on skills and knowledge required for worldwide contingency operations, augmenting the Air Force’s computer-based training regimen.

Air Force civil engineers are responsible for building, sustaining and protecting infrastructure and equipment, both at home and abroad, to support both home station and contingency operations. These duties include establishing bare-bases and runways in austere locations, maintaining infrastructure and providing security for their assets.

Lt. Col. Travis Guidt shared his vision for establishing a squadron of contingency ready engineers when he took command of the 436th CES in June of 2017. With restoring readiness as the focus, his unit got on board to create a “Road to War” training plan for each of their Air Expeditionary Force teams.

“Col. Guidt’s intent is to ensure that the Airmen we send to combatant commanders are ready to execute the mission, and his job here is to train them in preparation,” said Senior Master Sgt. Damien Seals, 436th CES readiness and emergency management flight chief. “My mission as the flight chief is to create a plan to meet our commander’s vision, and this field training exercise was a great step toward meeting this goal.”

Due to availability at the regional training site (RTS), Seals and other squadron members only had 37 days to plan the event, which included air-base defense; tactical convoy operations; individual movement techniques; land navigation; night vision goggle use; defensive fighting positions; CPR and chemical, biological radiological and nuclear defense (CBRN) training.

Seals reached out to the Pennsylvania Air National Guard to ascertain availability, and upon confirmation began working with Master Sgts. Gared Snyder and Charles Patterson, and Staff Sgt. Casey Reed of the squadron’s Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force (Prime BEEF) office.

Prime BEEF is a team that is rapidly deployable and capable of providing a full range of engineering support required to establish, operate and maintain defense force and contingency air bases. As subject matter experts, they quickly created a training regimen.

“Our Prime BEEF office did an exceptional job putting our training together and coordinating with the staff onsite,” Seals said. “They put together a great plan with little to no down time, which was phenomenal. Additionally, our experts stepped in and made sure our training was top-notch. Their expertise meshed very well with the schedule, and the result was a great training experience.”

Chief Master Sgt. Joel Jones, Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, said the 436th CES is the first unit to his knowledge within AMC to conduct home-station training at an RTS like Fort Indiantown Gap.

According to Seals, there were two main factors contributing to the decision to seek RTS training; access to equipment and being able to truly focus on the training.

“It’s kind of hard for us to practice our contingency operations training at home station, so moving to a separate location allowed us to focus solely on mission readiness,” Seals said. “The biggest advantage of training off-site was the availability of equipment.”

Air Force bases no longer have contingency equipment, Seals said. It’s all stationed at Grissom Air Force Base, Indiana. Fort Indiantown Gap, however, had everything the squadron needed to accomplish all of their training objectives.

The fort, which is managed by the Pennsylvania National Guard, is the state’s only live-fire, maneuver military training facility. Its 17,000 acres house 140 training areas and fully equipped facilities capable of supporting year-round training, and it’s only about a two-and-a-half hour bus ride from Dover AFB.

Not long after the squadron members returned to Dover, the unit was placed on standby to provide relief to the hurricane-ravaged island of Puerto Rico. While the 26-member team was not activated, they were ready and willing to use the training they just received to establish and sustain a bare base hospital.

“Team Dover’s CE Airmen are fully prepared to support any tasking, from humanitarian relief to contingency operations in a contested environment because of training initiatives like the one our engineers just executed,” Guidt said.

While squadron leadership was pleased with the outcome of this FTX, the team is already establishing plans for the next Air Expeditionary Forces cycle of deployers.

“For many of our guys, this was their first chance to see what they do in a deployed setting,” Seals said. “Not only that, it was their first time really seeing what all the other shops do and how they work together to accomplish the mission. We all saw a lot of ‘aha’ moments during the training, and when these Airmen returned they told everyone about how great it was. Now, everyone wants to participate in the next one.”

Currently, more than 40 members of the squadron are deployed and another 82 have completed the training, significantly improving the unit’s down-range effectiveness.

“This is the first training like this in AMC in at least a dozen years where a civil engineer squadron actually goes to an off-base location to conduct the training,” Jones said.

Team Dover’s engineers are proud of this distinction.

“We’re leading AMC now. In fact, there are less than five other bases in the entire Air Force that are training in this manner, and we’re right there with them now,” Seals said. “Right now, our focus is to make sure we have a strong readiness program at Dover AFB and push forward from there. My vision is to be the best readiness flight in the Air Force. We want to be the benchmark. We have a ways to go, but we’re making progress.”