Airborne Airmen, Soldiers train together

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  • By Rich Lamance
  • Air Force Print News
The Air Force lost a shade of blue last week when more than 30 airborne-qualified Airmen and their counterparts from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division jumped into a simulated unusable airfield during a Joint Forced Entry Exercise here. 

The exercise tested the teams’ abilities to “jump out of a plane, get to an air base first, bed down, clean the runway to prepare the air base for coalition occupation and bring in Air Force airplanes,” said Col. William Kolakowski, commander of the 820th Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer, or Red Horse, unit, from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. His unit was one of two Air Force airborne engineer flights involved in the exercise. 

The joint Air Force and Army engineer teams combined the best of both engineering worlds, said Navy Chief Petty Officer Peter Phillips, a Seabee builder chief attached to the 820th Red Horse. He said the exercise took rapid deployment engineering to a new level.

“This exercise has opened the doors for two great forces to get the job done faster and safer. The Army provides great support and security, while the Air Force brings great construction skills and the fast-paced movements of both provide an outstanding team,” Chief Phillips said.

The exercise provided both sides the opportunity to take away valuable lessons on getting an enemy airfield quickly ready for friendly use.

“I’ve learned two different types of crater explosive charges, as well as different security and defensive techniques the Army uses,” said Senior Airman Bryan Le, a pavements and heavy equipment specialist with the 820th Red Horse. 

Working with the Army in airborne operations brings a valuable card to the table, said Staff Sgt. Randy Dobson, an explosive ordnance disposal team leader, also from Nellis.

“Army Sappers (combat engineers) clear runways fast and with limited equipment …sometimes with no equipment at all. They are soldiers above all else and protect us as they would their own family. They called us the subject matter experts and that’s a lot of what we brought to the table,” Sergeant Dobson said.

Army engineers have shown their Air Force counterparts a more physical side of their job, said Staff Sgt. Mitchell Romag, a pavements and equipment operator.

“The Army operates on a more tactical level, whereas the Air Force works more on a technical level, "Sergeant Romag said. "We each had something to contribute. This exercise was done on a much grander scale than what I’m used to in the Air Force. The Army trains to fight.”

But the training was far from one-sided, said Army Capt. Mike Scioletti, commander of Company A, 325th Special Troops Battalion, a unit of the 82nd Airborne Division. He said the Army had a lot to learn from their Air Force engineer brethren. 

“We learned a lot of great techniques for crater repair, along with new equipment and we learned that their training is a lot more advanced than we anticipated. They were repairing craters in about 65 to 70 minutes at night … that’s about three times quicker than where we’re at right now," the captain said.

"There are also Air Force (explosive ordnance disposal) teams out there with us, helping us work on Air Force munitions in and around the flight landing strip, unexploded ordnance and how to dispose of them, which ones we can handle and which ones we can’t. It was really good training,” Captain Scioletti said.

Colonel Kolakowski believes that "times are a ‘changing," and old perceptions of how the Air Force operates are quickly being transformed into the realities of a joint force.

“There is a horrible perception that we sit back at our air bases and project forward and drink our tea and play our golf,” the colonel said. He believes those perceptions are dying hard.

“We are here to stay," Colonel Kolakowski said. "You’ll see in basic training and right out of tech school, these guys are grabbing their M-16s right away and get used to carrying them. 

“We just got back from an Iraqi mission, working with the 101st Airborne Division. It was a full joint mission -- my boss was an Army one-star general," the colonel said. "We were in convoys, performing combat logistics patrols, doing crater repair on the main highway out of Baghdad, and any time an (improvised explosive device) caused a crater in a part of the road, we had to fill them up right away, so we would have a safe road for Army and Air Force convoys.” 

Air Force involvement in this exercise is just one example of how the service will fit into future combat roles, said Tech. Sgt. David Keeley, an airborne utilities specialist with the 823rd Red Horse Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

“The Air Force traditionally stays at the rear and projects the fight to the enemy in the form of fighter and bomber aircraft support, with few Airmen put in harm's way," Sergeant Keeley said. "This program will make the burden shared across the board and give the Air Force equal status in the trenches.”