HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. — Airman Smith arrived to the quarterly tactical communications exercise concept of operations briefing expecting the week-long exercise to pan out like any other: 12-hour shifts of specialized training to prepare him for the complexities of creating a command and control node in an austere environment. This time around, however, the exercise operations would be significantly more intense. Instead of setting up the nine standard aircraft pallets worth of tailored special operations forces command and control equipment during the day, operations would begin at dusk. Also, instead of being bused directly to the bed-down site, Airman Smith would have to ruck-march three miles to a bare concrete pad on the Eglin Range. He would have nothing but his training to rely on, the gear on his back and the men and women on his team to effectively and quickly establish enough command and control capabilities to wage the air component of a special operations forces mission.
The challenges did not end there. In addition to arriving at a completely austere site, in the dark and tired, the Airmen had to commence setting up the gear to prepare them for future taskings. In a similar manner to pilots ratcheting up flight hours to stay current on their airframe, these tactical communicators have to zealously train on their equipment so they can be prepared to setup, troubleshoot and repair it, "Any Time, Any Place."
During the week of Nov. 3-7, 40 tactical communicators from the 1st Special Operations Communications Squadron set out for a specialized communications exercise. Continually raising the bar, these expertly trained, highly skilled individuals were continually tested throughout the week. Three main aimpoints, develop leadership, instill confidence in technicians, and train for the worst case scenario, were echoed through realistic scenarios, equipment training and mentoring sessions.
A day of no-notice scenarios tested the 40 participants’ troubleshooting skills, problem solving abilities and quick thinking. One of the most complex scenarios was the redeployment of a three-person initial communications package. Significant team planning was required to successfully relocate nearly 3,000 lbs. worth of air-to-ground radios, network equipment and generators. Mirroring the steps of a real-world mission, the exercise site leadership received a deployment order outlining the nature of the mission. The team was afforded two extended bed pickup trucks ,to simulate aircraft transport, and were given directions to a remote helicopter landing zone on the Eglin Air Force Base range.
The scenario tested the mettle of the Airmen because they had to execute the mission in a certain amount of time with a limited amount of resources–adversities they will certainly face in the field. Successfully completing the mission, the team was able to forward deploy and setup secure phone, network and air-to-ground radios within the allotted window of time to begin mission executions.
The capstone scenario occurred at the most inopportune time–at night, during shift change. In a clandestine manner, the scenario evaluator simulated failure of the primary generator, labeled it as inoperative and broke an unsuspected component of the backup. While the leadership was briefing turnover to the night crew, the entire site lost power, requiring many functional areas to jump into action. Technicians had to troubleshoot the inoperative generators and properly turn off the sensitive communications gear before the five minutes of battery backup was lost. Once power was restored, the tactical communication warriors reestablished all C2 equipment to the site in an impressive 15 minutes.
The men and women of the 1st Special Operations Communications Squadron continue to be the communications vanguard for the 1st Special Operations Wing as they lead the way, "Any Time, Any Place."