HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Young men huddled around a smoldering, crackling fire. Warmth finally reached their operational camouflage patterned gear, tattered and damp from the cold, mountainous terrain of Cloudcroft, New Mexico. Their instructor’s eyes filled with reminiscent thoughts from a distance; those men earned a break. The sound of loud, barking orders turned to relaxed, congratulating suggestions to warm up and enjoy their successful completion of the week-long Combat Mission Ready check ride.
The brotherhood of this small career field took center stage as the 7th Air Support Operations Squadron hosted a CMR check ride for the newest team members of six different units from Nov. 17-22.
The purpose of the CMR check ride is to evaluate Airmen on basic skills needed for a joint terminal attack controller downrange. This training usually consists of about five to 10 Airmen who are relatively new to their unit and get trained exclusively by their squadron’s personnel.
These 24 Airmen were pushed for four long days and nights, and had to perform tasks individually, and as a team, in the dry desert climate of Fort Bliss, Texas, and the nearby cold, mountain village of Cloudcroft. The tasks included demonstrating small unit tactics skills, radio programming, and land navigation of a foreign terrain.
This training marks an important milestone in their career and allows them an opportunity to achieve the 93rd Air Ground Operations Wing standard for combat readiness. The 93rd AGOW is working on improving this training by consolidating it and having all newly graduated Tactical Air Control Party Airmen trained before they get to their first duty station.
The check ride will be used as a model for future trainings with a similarly large number of students and instructors. The wide range of squadrons represented also meant the students benefitted from the expertise and intensity of having experienced instructors from many different squadrons sharing their best practices.
“I personally learn the best after I have made a mistake,” said Staff Sgt. Tim Lhota, 14th ASOS noncommissioned officer in charge of operational mission qualification training. “These guys are going to be put out of their comfort zone by instructors who are constantly going to find a weakness, hammer on it and forge that weakness into hopefully a new ability or a new experience they've learned from.”
Due to the nature of their job, high-stress and high-intensity is very necessary for training, and the instructors made an effort to simulate real-life scenarios to ensure the young Airmen are operationally ready.
“As an instructor, I want to safely give the students the most realistic experience possible,” said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Blevins, 7th ASOS NCOIC of CMR. “I want them to actually experience what I experienced downrange. They would go on a mission, get sleep deprived and still have to finish the mission and go out and be lethal.”
Staff Sgt. Daniel Rivera, 7th ASOS vehicle maintainer, works in the same building as the TACP Airmen, filling the role of combat mission support.
Rivera witnesses the strong culture of brotherhood every day and is interested in cross training into the career field. To get a good grasp of what he would be getting himself into, Rivera decided to participate in the check ride, saying that it was one of the toughest challenges he has ever had to overcome--but it was an opportunity of a lifetime.
“You really work hard and play hard,” said Rivera. “I joined the military because I like camaraderie, morale, esprit de corps--stuff like that. I’m not saying you don't get that in other places, but it’s different in a special operations squadron. I think all support personnel should experience it.”
Bringing so many different people together not only gave an Airman who works in a different career field insight into what TACP does, it also gave Airmen from other bases a chance to see the Fort Bliss and El Paso, Texas, area, where they could possibly be stationed in the future.
“The city and base is actually a lot bigger than I thought,” said Staff Sgt. Stealth Kilmer, 14th ASOS TACP apprentice. “The terrain (of Cloudcroft) is also very different and the ruck we did was a huge challenge, but I’m enjoying working with other squadrons and seeing how they operate. I think events like this can help people be more open to going to bases they’re not familiar with.”
After a grueling week, the instructors believe the students will have a good foundation to build upon, and effectively fill roles in the teams they are so proud to already be members of.
These Airmen are going to leave this training a better-rounded TACP,” said Lhota. “Coming from this now they're going to have that flavor of how a different unit works. They can take those best practices and things that worked and bring them back to their unit.”