Crack, crack, crack.
A whirlwind of excitement and confusion spurred around the camp. Gunfire echoed through the tents as the Airmen scrambled to find cover.
They peered out from the safety of makeshift bunkers as they searched for the source of the sound.
Reports flooded across the radio of a team outside the wire with an unconscious young captain in tow.
“Get positive control of the casualty and return to base immediately,” came across the radio.
Just then, the alarm for incoming mortar fire sounded, and the Airmen outside the perimeter hit the ground and braced for an explosion.
The cold, soggy ground quickly turned to mud and the wind managed to cut through the bundles of layers, uniforms and chemical protective gear they wore. Water engulfed one poor Airman as he dove for the ground and landed in a puddle of water, the cold of which he would have to endure for the next 12 hours.
Although this was a controlled scenario and not in an actual combat environment, Airmen from the 606th Air Control Squadron spent 72 hours braving the frigid German weather and spending every minute of it guarding their base to prepare them for the real thing.
The exercise prepares them for the worst, said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Messing, a Bremerton, Wash., native who runs the combat readiness training course these Airmen experienced.
The course combined two weeks of classroom instruction with three days of practical exercise. The trainees set up a bare base camp and defended it at all costs, surviving scenario after scenario from the instructors and mock enemy combatants.
“They can set up in the middle of nowhere, deploy a radar site and have to defend their own base,” said Messing.
It is the physical application of every lesson learned in the past two weeks, and they must react accordingly to exercises by implementing proper use of force, securing unexploded ordnance and being aware of their surroundings.
The field training is meant to overwhelm the trainees, creating a sort of stress inoculation, Messing said. It is also unique because the 606th has a lot of support Airmen who normally would not deal with combat or austere deployments.
“Not everyone gets training like security forces, but when these Airmen come to an [air control squadron], you have to learn how to fight and defend the objective,” he said. “If they can survive here with what we throw at them, they have a better chance when the real thing happens.”
The 606th is a rapidly deployable unit that can quickly pack up and convoy to any location in the European theater to set up radar sites and control air assets from strategic remote locations. Because the unit is self-sufficient, it needs everyone at the same combat capacity. Every new member must complete the training.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Amanda Bailey, a data systems technician from Cocoa Beach, Fla., has never dealt with training like this, but enjoyed working with other Airmen from around the squadron with whom she would not normally work and learning critical skills that may be used in the future.
“You’re going to mess up, but the beauty of it is that it’s a controlled learning environment,” she said.