It’s Not Just A Pile of Rocks When It Comes to Counter IED Awareness Training

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jamie Titus
  • 155th Air Refueling Wing, Nebraska Air National Guard

Thirty Airmen with the 155th Security Forces Squadron from the 155th Air Refueling Wing, Lincoln, Nebraska, conducted their annual training June 19-26, 2017 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
Their training allowed them to enhance their skills in combat operations – one of the three primary missions that Security Forces can be tasked to do – through Counter Improvised Explosive Device Awareness Training, Shoot, Move and Communicate, Land Navigation, and Security Forces Combatives Program.
Each day built upon the previous day’s training, starting with a day full of classes on IEDs and how we combat them. The classes and training were taught by two contractors from the Asia Pacific Counter-IED Fusion Center, who both were former members of the military and have seen first-hand what IEDs can do.
“IEDs have been the number one killer of Soldiers, Airmen and Marines throughout our local theaters for several years and we’ve struggled as a force to try and get our arms around it and at the end of the day we’re saving lives,” said Brian Bess, a counter-IED trainer.
Bess said that because the 155th SFS has a lot of members who are police officers on the civilian side as well as experienced in their security forces field, they tailored their training so that it’s not so cookie-cutter.
Following the classroom training the Airmen walked through an indoor IED lane designed to provide a hands-on feeling by pointing out IEDs they noticed or stepped on. The IED lane showcased 30 types of IEDs, many of which were buried with pressure plates, trip wires, or explosive formed projectiles with operational buzzers and indicators of where they are located. Other IEDs were hidden by a pile of rocks or identified by a wire leading into a culvert or a car sitting on the side of the lane. A unique feature of the IED lane was an example of what a make-shift lab might look like where the enemy would build an IED complete with difficult-to-detect false walls for hiding weapons. After each section of the lane, the instructors would point out what may have been overlooked through the walk.
After the indoor IED lane, the Nebraska Airmen practiced looking for IEDs through virtual training made to resemble being in a convoy.
Their virtual training consisted of two parts, the Virtual Clearance Training Suite and the Reconfigurable Vehicle Tactical Trainer. Both simulations allowed for Airmen to work on their communication throughout the convoy and get a feel for both vehicles, all while keeping an eye out for IEDs along the way. It helped them realize how hard it is to spot IEDs, while still performing all of the tasks in a convoy, like keeping their eye out for the enemy.
“I think the biggest thing I will probably take back is the IED Awareness Training and being able to communicate with my team during dismounted and mounted operations,” said Senior Airman Sean Pozehl, a combat arms instructor with the 155th SFS. “Going through that training you realize how difficult it can be and how dangerous it can be, for not only you but your whole team, so the biggest thing I would probably take away is the techniques they taught us for identifying those dangers.”
Following virtual training, the Airmen took what they had learned to an outdoor IED lane at Camp Mad Bull, JBER, Alaska. The Airmen were given a mission to rescue a hostage in a building located at the end of the lane while continuing to look for indicators of IEDs.
Training like this allows the Airmen to make mistakes and gain experience within a safe environment.
“The goal is to set them up for success, let them make mistakes here in training, let themselves step on an IED here,” said Capt. David W. Strom, the Operations Officer for the 155th SFS. “It’s a learning opportunity so that when they go into real environments they learn from those mistakes and hopefully will either lead their men and women better or not step on the IED themselves.”
The goal of counter-IED training is simple.
“If I had to complain about the job, the only thing I would say is the statistics,” said Bess. “I will never know my success rate, I only know my failure rate because I only know of Soldiers who are hurt and maimed – we don’t know of how many we’ve saved.”
After the Counter-IED awareness training, the unit conducted an exercise called Shoot, Move and Communicate where they worked as small-fire teams to move through a mock village, shooting at enemy targets. Through it, they were able to work on their communication, being situationally aware and trusting their team to have their back.
Communication is important in any situation and can be hard to maintain, especially in deployed locations, as well as trusting each other and their leaders, said Strom. All of the training allowed them to work on those foundational skills that are highly valued in a real situation, he added.
Along with communication and trust, security forces also worked on building blocks like widening their perspective, being flexible and commanding each other especially in a time with ever-evolving enemy tactics.
“[After 9/11] warfare became irregular, we didn’t know who the good guys and the bad guys were,” said Strom. “Air Bases aren’t in the back anymore, sometimes they’re right on the frontlines and right inside the bad guys territory, so Security Forces has had to change the way in which we train so that we make sure that we have a well-rounded defender that can not only do air base defense, like maybe law enforcement, but can go outside the wire and take the fight to the end.”
Strom said the Airmen that come to training have a wide variety of skills to bring from their civilian side and many levels of experience to bring to the table, which is one thing he loves about the guard. He added that he’s always learning something new about what his Airmen bring to the fight and what the training will do for them.
”The range of experience is so broad, that I think every Airman is going to take away something different, for those who have seen it, have done it, hopefully they’re passing that information on now. This is their time to take what they’ve learned and give that to the Airmen and hopefully they’re learning instructor skills, and how to pass that information on and what the right way to do it,” said Strom.
“Whereas an Airman who’s never seen it before, what they’re probably taking out of this is completely different, they’re awed that this is for real, they’re awed by their mission, this is the first time they’ve seen an IED or even know what it looks like,” added Strom. “So, hopefully they’re being sponges and taking all that instruction that they’re getting and understanding that they’re not always going to be at this Airmen level, that someday they’re going to have to be doing what these other Senior NCOs are doing and that’s passing on this information.”
Having the annual training not only allows Airmen who are new to gain that experience they’ve never had but it also allows those who have been through similar training to brush up on those skills and become more knowledgeable in their field.
“I’m really glad that it’s annual training, that we learn these skills every year, brushing up, going over and getting better at my skills – but the thing that I’ll probably take away the most is the IED training,” said Airman 1st Class Grace Chvatal, a security forces journeyman with the 155th SFS. “I definitely came into this week not knowing anything about it and now I know different types, different locations, and how to look for them and what to do in case your find one.”
Along with the training being new for some of the Airmen, being in Alaska allowed everyone to experience a new environment that they would not see in Nebraska.
“Being somewhere else than Nebraska just means having a more well-rounded training as far as terrain, if you always train in the same terrain, the same environment, it’s not really doing yourself a favor,” said Pozehl. “If you train at different places then you set yourself up to be ready for anything that you might encounter, Alaska has a lot of terrain that Nebraska doesn’t have, so it’s good to get out in that environment, practice for the unknowns.”
Throughout their training in Alaska, mistakes were made allowing them to learn and grow as a team and not feel the judgement of others said Strom.
“It was an opportunity to make mistakes when it’s with your family, I mean brothers and sisters, and they make mistakes, we correct you, it’s no big deal,” said Strom. “This is an opportunity to work within a family, to make those mistakes within family.”