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Airmen help prepare Soldiers for Afghanistan duty

by 1st Lt Nathan D. Broshear
505th Command and Control Wing

10/27/2005 - FORT DRUM, N.Y. (AFPN) -- Airmen from around the Air Force helped prepare 10th Mountain Division Soldiers for their deployment to Afghanistan during exercise Unified Endeavor 06 here.

The exercise, which ended Oct. 23, prepared members of the division’s headquarters and staff for their upcoming rotation to head Combined Joint Task Force 76 in Afghanistan.

Joint Forces Command sponsors the training. Airmen from Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command and Air Force Special Operations Command provide support.

Realistic and high-intensity, the simulation tasks members of the joint operations center to coordinate air, ground and space forces with the ongoing ground campaign. Senior leaders also must work with NATO, coalition, Afghan and non-governmental organizations during each phase of operations.

“Even though it’s a model or simulation, it’s exciting. Often with training we don’t get to see the end product. In this case I know that we’re having a direct impact on this unit’s mission readiness,” said Lt. Col. Colonel Morehead, commander of the 505th Exercise Control Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

This Unified Endeavor marked the first time planners incorporated the air and space component coordination element concept into an operational-level exercise. The element is a new way of coordinating air assets with the Army — with flag officers leading the initiative.

“Under the ACCE concept, a forward-deployed liaison team represents the joint forces air component commander while working face-to-face with the combined joint task force staff at the headquarters, ensuring the right mix of air and space capabilities are presented,” said Brig. Gen. Rudy Wright, the air and space component coordination element commander.

Tactical exercises involving live aircraft and ammunition -- and troops get much of the glory in the press. Training higher headquarters staff is a just as vital, if not glamorous, task to ensure successful joint operations, General Wright said.

“Many of the lessons we’re incorporating into UE 06 are based on recommendations from our warfighters in the field,” he said. “This scenario is designed so that the issues senior leaders negotiate here in the security of a classroom and on computers are the same issues they’ll soon deal with on the battlefield — without the safety net of trainers and observers.”

For Airmen, creating realistic joint training means creating a realistic “air picture” for the Army to negotiate. In this exercise, Army staff reacted to the effects of the air tasking order generated by computers and a simulated air operations center at the 505th Command and Control Wing at Hurlburt.

The joint exercise control group, whose members keep the storyline and direction of the exercise events on track, was based at the Joint Warfighting Center at Suffolk, Va.

“In theatre, the Army will have to work with an air operations center thousands of miles away,” Colonel Morehead said. “We’re able to replicate the AOC and the entire air tasking order from Hurlburt Field. So it appears in the joint operations center in New York as if it’s taking place over Afghanistan.”

Maj. Joe DeCaro, air operations center rescue division chief at Air Force Special Operations Command headquarters, and Maj. Steve Kelly, the combat search and rescue command and control element division chief, had a significant role in the “white cell,” or exercise controllers, for exercise search and rescue operations.

Major DeCaro stressed the importance of personal relationships and understanding each service’s organizational roles.

“We replicate the search and rescue cell that the Joint Task Force would have to work with in order to evacuate personnel or recover a downed aircrew,” Major DeCaro said. “The challenge for participants is to learn how to accomplish these tasks by working with people and organizations they’ve never before touched.”

“This training taught the Army how to coordinate their efforts quickly and effectively,” Major DeCaro said. “I’m sure these Soldiers will have a ‘leg-up’ on their predecessors.”

Tactical air control parties also helped to direct airpower inside the joint operations center. Lt. Col. Todd Serres, 21st Air Support Operations Squadron commander, and Senior Airman Cody Quinn, a tactical command and control specialist, worked to interpret orders from the AOC to division troops.

“Tactical air control party Airmen are vital to the Army,” Airman Quinn said. “We’re on the battlefield and in the headquarters to make sure bombs are on target to stop the enemy, but most importantly, TACPs keep the good guys safe.”

During the exercise, members of the 712th Air Support Operations Center at Fort Hood, Texas, set up their equipment in a field next door to the modern training facility and worked out of a large classroom.

For the Airmen, used to being embedded in Army units and operating under field conditions, the exercise proved to be a paradox.

“This is nothing like the environment we’d normally work in,” said Staff Sgt. Kevin Waite, a computer control systems craftsman. “But the chaos, workload and tasks are the same types of things we’ll have to contend with in a few months.”

Ultimately, training at the operational level turned out to be more about people than processes.

“Establishing relationships with the Army staff we’ll be working with in Afghanistan -- not just any Soldier but the actual person you’ll be working with -- is the most important part of this training,” Sergeant Waite said.

“They rely on our gear to get close air support,” he said. “And we won’t let them down.”

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