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Ready for war? XP Airmen keep Team Dover prepared for any contingency

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman James Bolinger
  • 436th AW Public Affairs
Preparing to deploy is tough. It's stressful on Airmen and their families, as well as their units who are now operating with one less person. Imagine deploying more than 700 people in a single day.

The task of getting a wing ready to forward deploy, or in the case of Team Dover ready for an operational readiness inspection, is left up to a small team, 436th Airlift Wing Plans and Programs.

"Preparing a C-5 wing to deploy as a unit is a challenging task," said Maj. Derek Salmi, Dover's lead ORI planner. "C-5 wings don't deploy in the sense other units in AMC do. C-130s, C-17s and tankers all forward deploy regularly, for us, Dover is our deployed location. We run operations 24/7, 365 days a year."

Trying to get an airlift wing that is used to a high tempo of operations all the time ready for an inspection of this magnitude, has taken Major Salmi and the people at XP more than seven months.

Major Salmi joined the XP team in November 2007 to spearhead the base's plan for success during the inspection.

The XP office designs exercises, grades units' exercise ability and keeps Team Dover ready for any contingency that may arise. Plans and programs involvement in everyday wing preparedness is the reason they are charged with getting Dover ready for the upcoming ORI.

The goal of the inspection is to successfully deploy the 436th and 512th Airlift Wings to a forward operating base and support operations at a forward operating location.

"It's a challenge to prepare people for this," said Major Salmi. "We take the commander's vision for how he thinks we should fight a war and prepare agencies across the base to support (the commander's) goals."

Team Dover participated in more than a dozen exercises concentrating on four areas the inspector general will grade during the ORI.

"I split the IG grading criteria into four areas," said Major Paul Theriot, 436th XP chief. "Initial response or how we respond to the deployment tasking; employment or how we fight the war; mission support or how the base's support agencies, services, maintenance, etc. perform; and ATSO (Ability to Survive and Operate) or ensuring all members can get into full MOPP 4 in two minutes or less and that they are comfortable in their gas masks for long periods of time."

According to the XP professionals, one of the toughest things they had to work around to get Airmen ready was Dover's high operations tempo.

"It was hard to find time to schedule an exercise," said Major Salmi. "We had to work around (Unit Training Assembly or Reserve) weekends, and because the ORI involves so many people we had to plan around or incorporate real-world events into the exercise."

An idea that made this task easier was tasking squadrons with their own preparedness.

"We had the units do ATSO-days at work," said Major Theriot. "Squadron commanders know what areas their people need to work on, so they set down a plan to train and tailored it to their operations. For example, the aircraft maintenance squadrons have been on the flightline bringing in planes while wearing full MOPP gear."

The idea paid off. Airmen sent to observe other units participating in their ORIs reported that the IG was grading those units on areas Dover has prepared for.

"To a certain extent the ORI can be a game, but you can't treat it that way," said Major Salmi. "It's like an open-book test that the base still has to study for."

Training exercises are an opportunity for Airmen to learn and, according to Major Salmi, planning them is no exception.

"As a pilot I know the operations side pretty well," he said. "I learned a lot about other wing agencies. I now understand how important squadrons like communications, (civil engineering) and services are to operations.

Major Theriot said he would do some things differently if he could start planning for the ORI over again.

"I would have liked to have gone and observed other units going through their ORIs," he said. 'I would have liked to get more people out there to watch. I have several members of my shop who experienced Dover's 2005 ORI and I would have liked to send them to observe."

According to both officers, the base is as prepared as it can be for the inspection.

"You know in college where you have been studying for a big test and you think you are going to do well you're just waiting to take the test, this is what that feels like," said Major Theriot.

"It's our job to educate and prepare people," said Major Salmi. "The talented people we have here made that easier."