Vermont Air National Guard
By Tech. Sgt. Garth Dunkel
The American warfighter works tirelessly to maintain an adaptive and flexible posture before, during, and after an attack from an enemy force. In order to sustain operational infrastructure, mobility, and overall health of our force, Airmen of the 158th Fighter Wing train with collaborating units to anticipate and surpass trends of enemy tactics on the modern battlefield.
To best prepare for attacks from enemy forces, Airmen of the 158th Fighter Wing’s Fire Department and Civil Engineering Squadron deployed to Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, for a 10-day exercise known as Silver Flag. For the Civil Engineer (CE) troops, Silver Flag is required training every four years to maintain currency of practices and certifications.
Silver Flag’s curriculum is based on real-world concepts that are conducted in extremely austere environments to equip Airmen with instruction for mission-adjacent readiness.
“The overall concept starts with classroom training first, followed by contingency operations based around the bed-down of personnel all the way up to sustainment of the base and airfield repair after an attack,” explained Senior Master Sgt. Keith Tourville, 158th CE Squadron Operations Superintendent.
A key component to the training for CE personnel was a new repair procedure for post-attack airfield craters. This new method significantly expedites the curing process of runway concrete.
“Learning the new form of rapid runway repair after being attacked (calls for) a new set-up of equipment and processes of filling craters, repairing craters and getting the runway back (to an) active (status) within a short amount of time that’s completely different than the way we used to do it,” remarked Tourville.
Efforts to reestablish a functional runway moments after an attack, throughout multiple organizations, requires a considerable about of coordination in a chaotic environment. For the 158th CE leadership, this obstacle was one that required considerable amount of deliberate planning.
“In this instance, there was 120 or so personnel from all over the place; personnel from two different units in Germany; probably four or five Air National Guard bases,” said Tourville.
The 158th Fighter Wing’s Fire Department conducted their Silver Flag exercise in their own specified sequence of events. Some aspects pushed the Airmen to physical extremes in order to train in the same manner as they fight.
The Fire Department’s main objective was “to combine the chemical warfare training along with experiencing what’s referred to as ‘J-Fire,’ that’s when you have fire bunker gear over top of your chemical protective suits,” explained Master Sgt. Erik Fischer, Deputy Fire and Training Chief, assigned to the Vermont Air National Guard Fire Department.
Upon returning to the Green Mountain State, Fischer and Tourville were pleased with the value this training experience delivered to their teams.
Fischer noted that his team appreciated newer challenges and cited one “new to Silver Flag where we did rescue operations in an outside-the-wire environment where we had OPFOR (a mock-up ‘opposing force’) engaging us (with weapon fire) so we had provided our own protection while providing rescue operations. So I think everyone really enjoyed that,” said Fischer.
“Overall we did really well. One of the biggest hurdles is we had a team of 38 (158th Fighter Wing) personnel go from here, mixed in with 120 people from around the world and within a week’s timeframe figure out how people work together. But overall, cadre from the Silver Flag said that we did an outstanding job,” mentioned Tourville.
The Green Mountain Boys returned from Germany equipped with a better understanding of trending enemy tactics throughout various areas of operations. The skills gained at Silver Flag in conjunction with the expected tempo, provide the participating Airmen with a means to recover and reengage mission functions if confronted by an opposing force.