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Airmen Hit the Streets to Prepare for Hurricane Evacuations

HUMVEES from the 290th Joint Communications Squadron travel to a Hurricane Response Exercise (HUREX) on MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa Florida on May 3, 2015. The HUREX prepared Airmen in deploying equipment and forces during a local natural disaster, one of the 290th's many missions.

HUMVEES from the 290th Joint Communications Squadron travel to a Hurricane Response Exercise on MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa Florida on May 3, 2015. The exercise prepared Airmen in deploying equipment and forces during a local natural disaster, one of the 290th's many missions. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Darius Carter and Airman Tyler Kulig with the help from others in the 290th Joint Communications Support Squadron "B-Flight" troubleshoot the setup and configuration of a JBlox baseband equipment at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa Florida, May 3, 2015. The JBlox baseband equipment is used to connect phones and computers to satellite systems. (U.S. Air Force photo by SSgt Troy Anderson/Released)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Darius Carter and Airman Tyler Kulig with the help from others in the 290th Joint Communications Support Squadron "B-Flight" troubleshoot the setup and configuration of a JBlox baseband equipment at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa Florida, May 3, 2015. The JBlox baseband equipment is used to connect phones and computers to satellite systems. (U.S. Air Force photo by SSgt Troy Anderson/Released)

Tampa Fla. -- Airmen trucked through Tampa traffic in May to ensure they were comfortable and experienced travelling as a team through busy city streets.

Due to the prevalence of severe storms in Florida, and MacDill AFB's proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, the 125th Fighter Wing's, 290th Joint Communications Support Squadron (JCSS) regularly practices packing up and bugging out to a safe and dry location.

This hurricane exercise (HURREX) convoy training provides unique challenges to Airmen who most often focus on their specific job specialties. Drivers must work as a team to communicate effectively and navigate real-world traffic while battling vehicle noise and safely responding to rapidly changing conditions. Planners selected a driving route that offers a variety of traffic conditions intended to potentially disrupt the convoy and force drivers to work together to maintain a safe and organized vehicle train.

"Convoy training enhances the mission of the 290th because it makes us more prepared to go out on the road before, during or after a hurricane," said Master Sgt. Courtney Howard-Kirby, planner for the HURREX. "These exercises ensure our Airmen understand how to make a left-hand turn down Dale Mabry [Highway] when it's very busy, making them more prepared and less anxious when they  go out after a natural disaster."

Convoy training also throws Airmen into the thick of things by pairing drivers and co-drivers based on mission requirements. Each vehicle was manned by a fully qualified driver, and a co-driver who had yet to accomplish vehicle qualification. Howard-Kirby said this provides the most training value with the limited assets and resources available.

Likewise, planners reviewed the roster and selected motivated and capable Airmen for leadership opportunities. Staff Sgt. Rebecca Davison was chosen as the Chaulk Commander for the first of three chaulks deploying that day. She was responsible for the accountability of the vehicles and the personnel included in the first chaulk.

"Lessons that I learned from this convoy training are just to make sure communication is very clear and doing double-checks," Davison said, " not just going through the 1800 vehicle checklist, but really checking everything and going outside the box as far as what's required."

Approximately 80 Airmen, from multiple job specialties, took to the vehicle fleet to train for this rapid base evacuation. The group was composed of Airmen from all skills levels, including those who had no previous convoy experience. Airman 1st Class George Youstra crammed his more than six-foot tall body into the driver's seat of a Humvee for his very first convoy.

"Since we live in the state of Florida, you never know when a hurricane is going to hit and we've got to be able to move," Youstra said. "A lot of this equipment we don't touch daily, so we had to prep equipment we're not used to touching, but everything turned out ok."

Planners at the 290th JCSS schedule these large-scale convoys annually to ensure all Airmen who serve at the squadron are vehicle qualified prior to any real-world mission. Members train on Humvees, 1078 LMTVs and 5-ton trucks. Howard-Kirby said the rapid ops-tempo of the Air National Guard today requires servicemembers at all levels be fully qualified to best serve the state and federal missions.

"The 290th mission expands beyond just hurricanes," Howard-Kirby said. "So the training that we do now not only applies to the state of Florida, it applies to our nation as well."