Exercise Polar Force tests Agile Combat Employment

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Samuel R. Colvin
  • Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs

Exercise Polar Force 20-1, a biannual two-week mission readiness exercise designed to test multiple elements of the Agile Combat Employment concept of operations ended Oct. 10.

The exercise allowed Soldiers and Airmen from units across Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, to develop and strengthen the skills required to operate in austere environments and in adverse situations.

This iteration saw a lot of firsts, including a helicopter medical evacuation of patients with simulated injuries, setting up an expeditionary medical support system tent in a simulated deployed environment, a Tactical Combat Casualty Care course and using drones to map a runway.

Civil engineer explosive ordnance disposal Airmen cleared Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions during Polar Force 20-1 to simulate an attack on an airfield.

“We blew off 400 quarter-blocks of C-4 during this training,” said Air Force Col. Mike Staples, 673rd CE group commander. “This training event sets the stage for the next Polar Force (exercise) in the spring when we’ll test our rapid airfield damage repair capability. This and other capabilities are critical to success in the multi-domain fight.”

CE Airmen on JB Elmendorf-Richardson partnered with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center using drones to view and map a runway prior to and after the simulated attack, providing the ability to identify damage the naked eye can’t see, said Air Force Lt. Col. Taona Enriquez, Camp Mad Bull commander.

“Over time, we’ll be able to see those overlays on top of each other and see the destruction that’s happened to the airfield, not only from attack but from wear and tear,” Enriquez said. “It’s giving us a baseline.”

This iteration of Polar Force also boasted the first Level 1 TCCC training course in the Air Force, the Defense Department’s replacement for self-aid buddy care, Enriquez said. Airmen with the 673rd Medical Group taught 118 Airmen from different career fields medical skills that are useful not only in deployed environments, but also in providing immediate life-saving care to any trauma victim.

“It’s important to understand that the installation and the wing commander has given us time to sit back and deliberately train on these wartime tasks,” said Chief Master Sgt. Bradley Quam, Camp Mad Bull chief enlisted manager.

A major part of the exercise was the defense and operation of a simulated deployed base, Camp Mad Bull, as the hub of a simulated medical mission.

An element of the ACE concept is to deploy with a smaller footprint and less Airmen. To accomplish this, Airmen must learn how to perform tasks and functions of other career fields to augment each other when needed. Airmen who had never set up a military tent before were setting up living and working areas; civil engineers were supplementing defenders and learning how to refuel an F-22 Raptor; and paralegals were doing search and recovery for a simulated downed aircraft.

“In order for the ACE concept to be successful, we have to learn to be multifunctional, which is one thing we absolutely accomplished at Camp Mad Bull,” Enriquez said. “There’s no doctrine written for this. We were given the space and time to test this and that’s what we’re doing across all echelons.”

“It was inspiring to see Airmen from different career fields learn something and be able to apply it,” Quam said. “We trained CE Airmen how to do litter carries on a live helicopter and two hours later, they were loading patients and taking patients off of live helicopters. They had never done that before in their life.”

In addition to cross-functional training, Polar Force is an exercise that allows base leadership to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each wing’s internal capabilities and identify the strengths and weaknesses that arise when working together. Identifying those weaknesses is used as an opportunity for improvement.

“The objective is to identify and test gaps and seams in the complexity of the different mission sets,” Enriquez said. “We knew coming out here we had blind spots. It’s not a pass or fail; we are just testing the capabilities we have, so next time we can improve on them.”

When EOD Airmen were demonstrating their ability to operate in mission-oriented protective posture Level 4 in a simulated hazardous environment, they had an issue pulling the firing pin with gloves on, Enriquez said. EOD leadership challenged its Airmen to visit the JB Elmendorf-Richardson innovation lab to use the 3D printer to create something to pull the firing pin while wearing gloves.

The vision is for Camp Mad Bull to be a regional training site and exercises such as Polar Force lay the foundation.

“This week’s training at Camp Mad Bull brought unprecedented realism for Polar Force,” said Air Force Col. Patricia Csànk, JB Elmendorf-Richardson and 673rd Air Base Wing commander. “We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into building up Camp Mad Bull, and our Airmen demonstrated its capacity as a premier training platform this week. I’m extremely proud of our team’s efforts and the results they achieved. My vision is to make JB Elmendorf-Richardson the regional training site for agile combat support proficient training, and Polar Force 20-1 has proved a critical milestone in bringing this to fruition.”