Life in combat training

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kyle Gese
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
I joined the Air Force July 2012. I never thought I would be going through combat readiness training so early. I didn't really know what to expect.

But I had a feeling it was going to suck.

I mean, I went through something similar in basic training called Beast Week, which tested our combat skills. My technical training school went through a day of combat camera training, so I thought this was going to be like a mixture of that.

I thought I would go camping for a week without being able to have a real shower and eat nothing but pre-packaged meals. These meals -- known throughout the military as MREs -- could likely survive a zombie apocalypse, and, no, they unfortunately do not include Twinkies. I also thought I was going to just do my job and take photos.

I was wrong.

The entries below detail a day-by-day account of what actually occurred at the 606th Air Control Squadron's combat readiness training.

Day one

We arrived at our site and began setting up our tents and building defensive fighting positions, which took us most of the morning. DFPs are sand-bag barricades used to help defend a base. It took a little bit longer than was expected due to a few tents breaking, but that didn't hold us back. By the end of the day, we set everything up, but it felt like it took forever.

After, we were visited by friendly groups of people. They asked us about a goat they lost. They posed no threat to us so we just prevented them from entering our perimeter and talked with them.

Later that afternoon, opposing forces (OPFOR) began testing our defenses. They challenged us on our use of force skills to see if we knew what to do when they used certain tactics against us. Sometimes, they would approach us and just want to talk, and other times they wanted to enter our base and expressed hostility. We had to decide if we were to engage them with non-lethal or lethal force.

The rest of the evening we put up concertina wire (C-wire) and kept building up our DFPs to help us in defending our base. C-wire is spirals of razor-sharp wire and is used to prevent people from crossing into our base.

What made us most angry was when OPFOR would pull apart our C-wire in the middle of the night. We were all ready to just be done with the day and go to bed, but they would keep us up by destroying our fence and attempting to infiltrate our base.

The difficulties that we encountered on our first day only made us better, because right away, we were working together to overcome obstacles. We built a strong team and forged valuable leaders that helped us through scenarios such as base attacks that followed.

Day two

It was another early morning.

I woke up at 4:30 a.m. I wasn't used to waking up that early, and by the looks of it, neither was anyone else. People were yawning and reactions were a bit slow. Today we spent more time increasing our defenses by rebuilding DFPs and putting up more C-wire. We also started taking two-hour shifts manning DFPs.

During this time, the OPFOR started using psychological warfare to try and break us mentally. They played loud music for what seemed like hours to really irritate us. They played a song from Pokémon, hamsterdance and the call to prayer. I started to hear the songs playing over and over in my head. Before I would go to bed I would catch myself humming the song and sometimes I would even hear it in my sleep. It drove me crazy!

After day three

We went over self aid buddy care, the law of armed conflict, counter IED training, searching individuals and Afghanistan culture.

After each briefing, the instructors started incorporating the things we just learned into our exercises.

We went through more scenarios preparing us for what we might encounter down range, such as encountering hostile forces, unexploded ordnances and friendly locals. Every exercise had a purpose, kind of like a puzzle, that pieced together in the end.

Not to mention it was very stressful trying to participate in the combat training and having the additional duty of taking pictures of everything during these scenarios.

One of the exercises tested if we could foster a partnership with a local mayor. Because of a few mistakes, like accidently calling him a girl and shooting his body guard, our relationship with the mayor steadily decreased causing his people to be hostile to us.

Our last day was short, but intense. The training scenario was a bug-out order -- meaning to evacuate the site. Everyone started preparing to pull out when the OPFOR rushed our site and tried to take us by force and numbers. A total of 17 simulated mortar explosions occurred throughout the attack, and it was startling. The explosions were loud and you could feel it through your entire body.

After eliminating the threat, an unexpected, yet humorous, event occurred. The deceased OPFOR rose from the dead and became zombies. I could hear a few chuckles and then people shouting "Shoot them in the head!"

At this point, this last exercise was for us to have some fun and blow off steam from our long and stressful week.

After it was all over, I ended up really liking the experience. I learned a lot from the training and made many good friends. I got to brush up on the skills I learned in basic training and even learn some new ones. I never learned how to properly detain and search someone before, and this taught me how to do that.

At our graduation ceremony, everyone received a certificate of completion. Airman 1st Class Gustavo Castillo, another photojournalist in my office, and I became honorary members of the 606th ACS, and we received squadron hats as a gift. I felt truly honored to have had the opportunity to participate in this class and become not only better my combat photo skills, but my warrior ethos as well.