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Field training boosts wing's combat readiness

Maj. Armand Bolotte and Lt. Col. Scott Quinlan of 123rd Airlift Wing Headquarters, practice self-aid and buddy care skills. (Photo by Capt. John Stamm/KyANG)

Maj. Armand Bolotte and Lt. Col. Scott Quinlan of 123rd Airlift Wing Headquarters, practice self-aid and buddy care skills. (Photo by Capt. John Stamm/KyANG)

Tech. Sgt. Colin King, a squad leader in the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Security Forces Squadron, conducts M-16 marksmanship training at the rifle range in Gulfport, Miss.
(Photo by Capt. John Stamm/KyANG)

Tech. Sgt. Colin King, a squad leader in the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Security Forces Squadron, conducts M-16 marksmanship training at the rifle range in Gulfport, Miss. (Photo by Capt. John Stamm/KyANG)

GULFPORT, Miss. --  The only potential threat was intense heat and humidity, but the combat-readiness training was as real as it gets for about 200 members of the 123rd Airlift Wing who deployed here to the Air National Guard training complex from July 20-26.

Those Airmen fired weapons, donned chemical warfare suits, decontaminated equipment and attended multiple classes on operational subjects like self-aid and buddy care, The Law of Armed Conflict and anti-terrorism.

Much of this training is routinely conducted in Louisville on drill weekends, but the July deployment gave commanders an opportunity to knock out a large amount of ancillary training all at once. More than 1,200 training events were logged in Gulfport, said Lt. Col. Matt Stone, deputy commander of the 123rd Mission Support Group.

That will now free Airmen to concentrate on mission-specific jobs during regular Unit Training Assemblies.

"On drill weekends," he said, "troops can concentrate on being a crew chief, a civil engineer or whatever their particular AFSC is."

Gulfport offered other benefits, too.

"If we did this on base, we'd have to put people up in hotels," Colonel Stone said. "You also have to factor in that the dining facility may not be available.  Here the lodging and dining are readily available. There's also a live-fire range for weapons training."

One of the deployment's most successful aspects was the Ability To Survive and Operate, or ATSO, training, officials said.

The wing's 123rd Readiness and Emergency Management Flight decided to try something new by conducting portions of chemical warfare training before requiring participants to "suit up."

"No one has ever done this before," Colonel Stone said. "Before, we would put troops in chem gear and then give them instructions on how to perform duties. Now, we're training outside the chem gear, teaching them the correct things to do and say and, once they learn that, we put them back in the suits and they practice what they've learned."

Retired Lt. Col. William MacPherson, the Counter-Chemical, Biological, Radiation, Nuclear and High-Yield Explosives program manager for the Air National Guard, said the new approach was beneficial.

"It's the first time I've seen it happen where a hundred and seventy-odd people came in here and were able to go through the Counter-CBRNE and the decontamination," Colonel MacPherson said.

He also praised the 123rd for the addition of a practical exercise to ATSO instruction.

During this phase of training, participants were divided into teams that staffed an Installation Command Center, an Emergency Operations Center and several Unit Control Centers. The teams were given a situation briefing and had to decide what to communicate up and down the chain in order to accomplish the mission.

"It exposes people who are not normally exposed to the command and control environment to what is happening in that environment," Colonel MacPherson said. "Hopefully that gives them an appreciation for what is really happening while they're in (Mission Oriented Protective Posture) 4."

Self-Aid and Buddy-Care courses followed the lead of the ATSO training by having troops practice with each other. Staff Sgt. Stephanie L. Murphy, a medical technician and SABC advisor, stressed the importance of hands-on training.

"They need to get their hands on the equipment and know how to use it," Sergeant Murphy said. "You don't want to panic when you're in the thick of things, so the more hands-on you get, the better."

The deployment wasn't, however, all work and no play. In off-duty hours, Airmen spent time socializing to develop camaraderie.

"In the evenings troops got to hang out, play sports or just talk," Colonel Stone said.  "It's a great team builder."