Twenty-one members assigned to the 56th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight participated in a three-day field training exercise, Furious Alpaca, April 10 – 13, 2023, at Camp Navajo, Ariz.
The strategic objective of the exercise was to conduct EOD operations in a contested, deployed environment alongside a foreign partner while facing threats from a near-peer adversary.
“We are training for the worst-case scenario against a peer-to-peer threat,” said Master Sgt. Michael Alger, 56th CES EOD training section chief. “We need to know how to deploy and work with our foreign partners as well as tackle any obstacles that we might see in a contested environment. Ultimately, the goal is to prepare our EOD members to go into those environments and have the capabilities to maneuver and communicate well with partner forces to achieve success.”
The exercise consisted of day and night operations with scenarios that challenged the participants, both physically and mentally.
“We have had early mornings and very long nights,” said Airman 1st Class Jessey Mclain, 56th CES EOD technician. “We’ve been out here training on scenarios both day and night. Having that physical wear and tear while still being able to maintain and operate during whatever problem arises is definitely one of the biggest challenges.”
Along with those challenges, each day saw the flight face a different situation which tested previously learned skills and added new skills to the Airmen’s collective repertoire.
“The first day we deployed them from a main operating base to a forward operating base, where they were familiarized with the partner force they were going to be operating with, doing things like firing drills and small unit tactics,” said Alger. “The second day they focused on land navigation to prepare them for the environment and familiarize them with the landscape in which they’ll be operating. Then on the last day, they were forward deployed with the partner force and executed EOD specific objectives in the field.”
On top of learning new skills, every scenario required a different and special set of tools to complete the mission at hand, which served to deepen understanding of what and how to employ during real-world operations.
“This also allows our technicians to understand how their gear works; what kind of equipment is needed in these environments and how to utilize it,” said Alger. “Those are tactile things that can only be taught through first-hand experience, those small field-craft and care skills, but also learning more about how to adapt to the environments and how quickly they can change. Reading about a scenario is different than experiencing it; things become much more complex and we want to inoculate them to any future stressors they may encounter.”
The 56th CES EOD flight regularly plans and holds one field training exercise annually but hopes to expand to multiple annual exercises in the future to further develop Airmen’s knowledge and prepare them for any situation.
“We’re always trying to think forward,” said Alger. “To prepare our folks today, is going to pay off dividends in the future. It’s great to get out into the elements and go through these scenarios so that they know when they do get out into some of those real-world scenarios, that they can perform and accomplish the mission.”
The Air Force has prioritized Airmen as its most valuable advantage in today’s era of strategic competition and with that, trainings like this are fundamental to their success.
“The great thing about these exercises is that we have so much experience, top to bottom, that we’re always learning,” said Mclain. “There is always a different way to do something and sometimes people have more effective and efficient ways to do that thing, so if I can learn a better way to do something, then that’s a huge benefit.”
The U.S. Air Force EOD maintains readiness and trains in order to enable the accomplishment of the Joint Force and the geographic combatant commander’s mission objectives in support of U.S. national security.