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Staff Sgt. David Vera puts on his war face during basic combat expeditionary skills training in the rain Wednesday at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Over several weeks, about 700 airmen at Misawa completed the three-day class, which tries to instill a warrior attitude.

Staff Sgt. David Vera puts on his war face during basic combat expeditionary skills training in the rain Wednesday at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Over several weeks, about 700 airmen at Misawa completed the three-day class, which tries to instill a warrior attitude. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Staff Sgt. David Vera puts on his war face during basic combat expeditionary skills training in the rain Wednesday at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Over several weeks, about 700 airmen at Misawa completed the three-day class, which tries to instill a warrior attitude.

Staff Sgt. David Vera puts on his war face during basic combat expeditionary skills training in the rain Wednesday at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Over several weeks, about 700 airmen at Misawa completed the three-day class, which tries to instill a warrior attitude. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Airmen practice rushing and dropping to the ground during basic combat expeditionary skills training in the rain Wednesday at Misawa Air Base.

Airmen practice rushing and dropping to the ground during basic combat expeditionary skills training in the rain Wednesday at Misawa Air Base. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Airmen at Misawa Air Base practice “low-crawl” techniques during basic combat expeditionary skills training in the rain Wednesday.

Airmen at Misawa Air Base practice “low-crawl” techniques during basic combat expeditionary skills training in the rain Wednesday. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Airmen at Misawa Air Base get a helmet-full of grass while practice the “low-crawl” technique.

Airmen at Misawa Air Base get a helmet-full of grass while practice the “low-crawl” technique. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Staff Sgt. David Rogers of the 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron grunts out a "low crawl."

Staff Sgt. David Rogers of the 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron grunts out a "low crawl." (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — It felt like boot camp all over again:

Crawling across a wet, grassy field with a rifle. Torso flattened against the ground. Instructors barking mercilessly.

“I’m in shape,” said Airman 1st Class San Kim, 22, a 35th Maintenance Squadron maintainer. “I didn’t expect it to be this hard. Just 250 meters of low crawling, high crawling, rushing is very hard.”

Three days to mold a warrior, to get an airman to think like a battle-ready soldier. That’s the challenge facing Adam Smith, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, and the three other war-savvy contractors leading airmen through basic combat expeditionary skills training, he said.

Misawa is gearing up to send hundreds of airmen to Iraq and Afghanistan for the next Aerospace Expeditionary Force cycle. They’ll be leaving later this month.

Many of the 700 airmen at Misawa who completed the three-day class over several weeks will deploy for the first time, Smith said. Most don’t expect to leave their base while downrange and can be resistant to adopting that aggressive, infantry mindset, he said.

“It’s a fundamental shift and, of course, that’s the hardest thing to accomplish in any organization,” he said. (We tell them) you have to take that same focus on how you would keep an aircraft engine on line and apply it to ‘How would I keep myself and my buddy next to me safe?’ ”

Pacific Air Forces funds the combat skills training, mandatory for airmen deploying to the U.S. Central Command area. While many will work inside the safer confines of an air base, airmen in any jobs could find themselves outside the wire, Smith said.

“We’ve heard tons of these stories,” Smith said. “A plane diverts. Now, they’re not sitting behind the wire anymore on a base, they’re getting on a convoy with the Army … to recover an aircraft.”

Airmen across the Air Force are deploying specifically for jobs in areas where the other services are shorthanded. The Air Force is currently filling about 5,000 “in-lieu of” ground force taskings, according to military officials, for duties ranging from protecting and driving convoys to guarding and interrogating detainees.

Airmen assigned to augment the other services, however, usually undergo longer, more intensive training in the States.

Tech. Sgt. Thomas Karnes of the 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron returned late last year from Army convoy duty in Iraq. He had 45 days of Army training prior to his assignment but said three days of combat training at least serves as a wake-up to most airmen.

“It makes these guys realize this is pretty intense stuff,” he said.

Smith concedes that “three days is not a long time to create new habits in folks.” Airmen have to practice what they learn after the class ends, he said.

“Even if all you do is visualize the process over and over again, you’ll build a habit that will be there for you when you need it,” he said.

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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