Civil engineers, communications specialists train at USAFA

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Justin Norton
  • 302nd Airlift Wing

The 302nd Civil Engineer Squadron and 302nd Communications Flight participated in an exercise at the U.S. Air Force Academy from July 10-12 to hone their job skills in a simulated deployed environment.

Staff Sgt. Jacob Timby, 302 CES operations management specialist, led the three-day event, Operation Valley Storm, at the field engineering and readiness laboratory (FERL). The exercise evaluated the capabilities of Airmen responding to simulated attacks during normal operations. Airmen also demonstrated their ability to recover after an assault.

“We’re part-time Airmen preparing to do our part so we’re ready if we’re called on to deploy,” said Tech. Sgt. Justin Tilley, 302 CES emergency management specialist. “The reason we’re doing these exercises here is so we can make sure we come home safe. The better we can do it here, the better we’ll do while deployed.”

Airmen received job-specific training during the first two days as well as hands-on training designed to prepare them for the upcoming exercise. They trained in convoy operations, land navigation techniques, combat radio communication tactics and how to operate using night vision goggles. Airmen also endured a gas chamber walk-through similar to the experience trainees receive in Basic Military Training.

“This weekend really brought people together,” said Tilley. “Given everything that’s going on right now, we were able to take our minds away from the stress of COVID-19 while still following the safety guidelines, but focusing on cooperating with each other took a lot of the stress off.”

During the exercise on the final day, Airmen were divided into groups and sent to separate locations after being assigned a task to accomplish based on their Air Force specialties. They monitored radio communications and reacted to calls requiring them to don chemical protective gear while continuing to work.

While accomplishing their assigned tasks, Airmen also created defensive barriers around their work areas. Airmen were not warned in advance when the attacks were going to occur and had to respond to the simulated surprise assault by returning fire using rifles with blank ammunition or by taking cover during mortar fire.

“Exercises like this are important for demonstrating our readiness and capability to deploy and operate in a contested environment,” said Col. Michael Moeding, 302nd Airlift Wing vice commander. “Swiftly building a base from the ground up is an important aspect of that readiness. It becomes very challenging to operate in a multi-domain, contested environment without support from our civil engineers and communication specialists.”

Senior Master Sgt. Belissa Bermudez, 302 AW inspections superintendent, said exercises like Operation Valley Storm fit into a larger picture for the wing through a domino effect. The civil engineers and communications specialists support their squadron, which in turn supports the wing, which supports a combatant command.

“These types of exercises give commanders a snapshot of their unit’s current capabilities,” said Bermudez. “They reveal areas of unknown risk and identify training or resource shortfalls. Once identified, units can make adjustments to their training plans and improve overall readiness.”

“The core competencies that our unit demonstrated in this exercise are critical to our mission readiness,” said Lt. Col. Jennifer Alecci, 302 CES commander. “I’m proud of our civil engineers’ ability to plan, develop, and safely execute an integrated operation given the constraints faced within the COVID-19 environment. They really knocked it out of the park!”