AF training to build bases from scratch
December 6, 2003
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Air Force is preparing its servicemembers to quickly and efficiently open any new air bases that might be required — no matter how austere the setting.
The new real-world based, two-week exercise called “Eagle Flag,” is conducted by the Air Mobility Warfare Center’s 421st Combat Training Squadron, based at Fort Dix, N.J.
The point of Eagle Flag, held in October for the first time, is to give airmen an opportunity to practice opening a mock “bare base” that can accommodate any mission or aircraft type, Tech. Sgt. Jeff Capenos, an “observer-controller” for Eagle Flag from the 421st Training Squadron, said in a Friday telephone interview.
The exercise is based on a new “modular” approach to opening austere bases that splits the task into four distinct “packages”: bringing in a small team to conduct the initial assessment and opening, leaders to decide how to organize the base, people to carry out that plan and finally, maintaining the rotations of personnel who will sustain the base through its operations, Capenos said.
“You don’t just pick up 400 people and put them on aircraft and say ‘Go do this,’” Capenos said. The four modules “make it logistically flow better.”
For the exercise, about 400 airmen are given the task of opening a fully functioning airfield, all the while coping with austere conditions and the kinds of situations they are likely to see in a simulated war zone.
“We don’t give them much,” Capenos said. “Just a big grassy field next to a runway” at nearby Naval Air Engineering Station in Lakehurst, N.J., where the runway is more suitable.
To make sure that Eagle Flag participants are prepared for reality, planners devising the exercise format applied lessons learned from Afghanistan and Iraq, Air Force officials said.
“We can link everything in the exercise scenario to something that’s happened in the real world,” Capenos said.
The 1990s gave the Air Force several opportunities to practice bringing austere air bases up to speed, including missions in Rwanda, Kosovo, Bosnia and Haiti.
But ever since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the need for new bases has vastly accelerated, Air Force officials said.
“We’ve had to open up 38 new bases” since Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Lt. Gen. Duncan McNabb, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, said Wednesday during a Washington conference on post-Iraq national security issues sponsored by the Fletcher Institute.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper agreed that Sept. 11 and the subsequent Afghanistan mission were a wake-up call for the Air Force’s combat support operations community.
“It was inside of a month after 9/11 [that] we were doing combat operations into an entirely landlocked nation,” Jumper said in October.
Senior defense officials touting transformation have said that the Defense Department will soon make potentially major changes to its footprint overseas, shifting from its static, well-established bases to a more “expeditionary” approach.
With no end in site to DOD’s potential requirements for remote bases, Air Force officials decided that air operations needed real-world based practice, in the same way that combat air forces hold realistic “Red Flag” aerial training exercises, Jumper said.
But to develop effective air base-opening training, “We have had to completely revamp the way we think, so we are agile enough to pick up and go anywhere,” Jumper said.
Some of that was already done when the Air Force made its shift to an expeditionary mode in 1999, introducing the “Air Expeditionary Force” concept, which involves rotating 10 “wings,” each with about 15,000 people, through a 15-month cycle of training, preparation, and deployment.