Operational readiness field exercises don’t match real world

  • Published
  • By Col. James E. Powell
  • Air University Inspector General
"I just came back from the theater, and we didn't do things like this. So, why are we exercising this way?"

This is a common complaint following a unit contingency operations exercise. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. summed it up best when he said, "A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood." However, to fully understand the answer requires one to understand how the United States plans to fight any contingency.

From the top down, combatant commanders must plan and execute operations within a particular area of operations. The Air Force's role is to organize, train, equip and provide combat ready Airmen to those commanders, and it uses the Air Expeditionary Force construct to identify and deploy those Airmen. Under that construct, whole units can deploy as part of an Air Expeditionary Task Force, or individual Airmen can deploy to augment other units.

Air Education and Training Command typically does not deploy entire training or educational units. What would combatant commanders do with a fleet of T-6s or the faculty from the Air War College, and how would the AWC commandant get by if his entire faculty deployed? Therefore, the command often deploys small unit type codes or individuals to support other units.

Supporting those units is vital to the success of the combatant commanders, whose troops must have the ability to respond to any real world threat. For example, every Airman deploying to a specific area of responsibility deploys with chemical warfare gear. While those Airmen are not walking around every day in full gear, they must be able to support the combatant commander's ability to respond to any possible real world threat. The commander can direct personnel under his command to carry or don the chemical warfare defense ensemble in anticipation of a threat. By the same token, he has the responsibility to not waste those CWDE assets?

Consider this note on Page 24 in Air Force Manual 10-100: "CPO has 120-day service life once removed from factory sealed bag. The wash/wear life for an uncontaminated CPO is six launderings or 45 days (whichever occurs first.)"

Our Airmen are not deploying to secure enclaves that are safe from possible attack, so combatant commanders require Airmen to be current in small arms and self-aid and buddy care training before arrival in theater. Adversaries can attack at any time; therefore, Airmen need to know how to report an attack and account for their wingmen following attacks.

Combatant commanders also have the responsibility of force protection. Again, AETC personnel have to be prepared to deploy into theater. Therefore, the AETC inspector general assesses their readiness for each possible scenario in support of the secretary of the Air Force inspector general's responsibility to report on force readiness to service leadership. To that end, the AETC inspector general office allots one day during the operational readiness inspection for field exercises. During that one short day, inspectors assess our readiness to cope with the full spectrum of possible scenarios that combatant commanders face every day.

In preparation for the upcoming ORI, expect to "deploy" for the field exercise with an actual weapon. Expect to demonstrate the ability to survive and operate in the face of ground and air attacks. The unit will only have eight radios for the field exercise, so expect to use alternate communications to change alarm conditions and MOPP levels. Expect to have to decide to either respond to an attack or to administer self-aid or buddy care. Also expect the IG to stress functional capabilities such as personnel support for contingency operations, contracting, services, judge advocate and chaplain.

George Patton wrote, "Untutored courage is useless in the face of educated bullets." So, if you are thinking field exercises don't mirror the real world, think again! The Maxwell-Gunter team has more than 120 folks deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. Some of those folks are there for an AEF rotation, while others are on extended temporary-duty assignments for up to one year. There is the distinct possibility that they will face one or more of the scenarios we exercise for the ORI.

We need to learn from our Marine brothers in arms who believe, "Every Marine is a rifleman." They recognize Marines get trained for specialties, but they never forget basic combat skills like the ones we evaluate for the inspection. In parallel, even though you may be a pilot, space operator or supply expert, you still need to know the material in AFMAN 10-100 and be able to respond to attacks.