ALPENA COMBAT READINESS TRAINING CENTER, Mich. --
Airmen of the 290th Joint Communications Support Squadron, Florida Air National Guard, traveled to the Alpena Combat Training and Readiness Center to test mission capabilities and readiness in an extreme cold weather environment Feb. 6-17, 2023.
The training tested the unit’s ability to establish communications, operate and sustain full scale, self-sustaining communication capabilities in any environment. The training also prepared Airmen for future warfare challenges by focusing on possible cold weather and contested environments. The ability to adapt quickly in harsh environments will be essential to maintaining operations safely and remain fully mission ready, said Maj. Paul Martin, 290th JCSS commander.
“This is not just about setting up communication,” said Martin. “It's about being familiar with the unfamiliar and most folks within the unit are unfamiliar with that cold environment.”
During the two-week training, Airmen attended classes primarily taught and evaluated by wingmen in their squadron. The Airmen learned how to find wood and start a fire in the snow, tie knots to build a shelter with tarps, and purify water. Lastly, everyone helped build a natural shelter using a fallen tree and layers of large tree limbs, sticks, leaves, and dirt.
Master Sgt. Reid Allen, a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) specialist, and two other SERE specialists instructed Airmen on basic survival techniques against the backdrop of frigid temperatures, freezing rain and snow.
“Historically, we’ve had isolated incidents with anything from an F-16 ejecting over hostile territory to someone getting lost on a drive or a car breaking down,” said Allen. “There are numerous stories of both wartime and non-combat situations where folks have found themselves isolated away from amenities that we have at home and these rudimentary foundational skills can apply to any of those circumstances.”
The training also satisfied ancillary readiness training in Combat Arms Training and Maintenance (CATM), Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN), Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR).
Further, the squadron’s ability to move 90 Airmen and several tons of equipment more than 1,000 miles for two weeks was a demonstration of logistical mastery for mission planners, said Martin.
“There's a whole aspect of the logistics, getting folks here, getting them on the plane, moving the pallets, weighing the pallets, inspecting the pallets … having the equipment of tents, the generators – it's just such a full-scale spectrum that we've really been able to meet,” said Martin. “I can't be happier with the way that this has come across from our planning to the execution.”
During the second week, the training capped with a communication exercise (COMEX) that involved establishing tents and satellite terminals, and then executing a series of communication tasks. Airmen needing upgrade training were able to satisfy those requirements during the event.
“Basically, the exercise is doing a bunch of mini exercises in terms of setting up the equipment, packing up and moving it,” said Senior Master Sgt. David Greagrey, quality assurance superintendent at the 290th. “We tried to replicate real world scenarios.”
Ultimately, the training met objectives to have all participants ready to deploy in an austere environment, said Master Sgt. Ron Muniz, 290th JCSS 1st. Sgt.
“It’s a check mark,” said Muniz. “Right now, we're in the green across the board, which is a great accomplishment in two weeks. In the comm unit community, we’re going to be one of the first to have that checkmark that we can communicate in a cold weather environment.”