Airmen bound together by Silver Flag in Germany

Civil Engineers operate compact tract loaders, or CTLs, with concrete saw attachments to cut squares around damaged parts of a runway while training at a Silver Flag exercise at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 12. Other Civil Engineers guide the CTL operators and scoope away dust and debris during the process. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

By Master Sgt. Matt McCoy, 184th Public Affairs

Airmen from all over the world deployed to a location near Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where the 435th Construction and Training Squadron hosted Exercise Silver Flag, Aug. 6-17. Training instructors, known as Cadre, spent two weeks teaching the deployed students how to set up a bare base by using their career specific skills. The students also learned how they contribute to rapid runway repair, should an attack ever occur. A simulated deployment to a field training site at Ramstein Air Base was conducted during the final two days.

“Silver Flag is a big training exercise for Civil Engineers and Force Support Squadron personnel to practice our wartime training skills, basically establishing a bare base, receiving personnel and deploying personnel down range to make that happen,” said Lt. Col. Brock Sissel, commander, 184th Civil Engineer Squadron and commander of the second Silver Flag, Ramstein Air Base.

Lt. Col. Brock Sissel, commander of the second Silver Flag and 184th Civil Engineer Squadron. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

The students totaled 149 personnel, making second Silver Flag one of the largest classes trained by the 435th CTS. Guardsmen from the 184th Civil Engineer Squadron, the 184th Force Support Squadron, Kansas Air National Guard, and the 122nd Civil Engineer Squadron made up the bulk of the students.

“They came from all over,” said Sissel. “There are 50 from Kansas, another 30 from an Indiana Air Guard unit, a handful from New Jersey, Mindenhall [Air Base], Aviano [Air Base], other units in Germany and then the German Air Force from northern Germany, around Cologne.”

A few students also traveled from as far as Japan.

“Silver Flag itself is a bridge between home station readiness training and actually deploying out to a contingency bare base site. We’re that bridge,” said Master Sgt. San Vasquez, section chief, Force Support and Civil Engineer Operations Management, 435th CTS.

“They take all that home station training, come together and apply it here with a whole bunch of different teams from all over the world, and attempt to set up a bare base,” said Vasquez.

No matter where they came from, or what career field they were in, the Civil Engineer and Force Support Airmen were in for a valuable experience.

Civil Engineers

(Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

The main responsibility for any Air Force Civil Engineer squadron is to serve as the Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force, or Prime BEEF. When something happens to a base, whether it’s an attack or natural disaster, Prime BEEF entities respond immediately to repair the damage.

Most career opportunities available for Civil Engineers fall in line with civilian construction trades. These include heavy equipment operators, electricians, structural builders, carpenters and more.

During the first week of training, each career field, or Air Force Specialty Code, received training specific to their trade. The training was designed to benefit all Airmen, both seasoned and fresh out of tech school.

No matter the experience level, one concept was new to all of the students—Rapid Airfield Damage Repair, or RADR.

“Rapid Airfield Damage Repair is a new process that was just developed and it involves working with hazardous materials; concrete, [quick drying concrete], and this is the first time most of the individuals in this class have seen this type of training,” said Sissel. “The RADR repair can last up to 3,000 passes from any type of aircraft. It’s very durable, it lasts a lot longer and it allows us to get aircraft in the air much quicker.”

Civil Engineers operate compact tract loaders, or CTLs, with concrete saw attachments to cut squares around damaged parts of a runway while training at a Silver Flag exercise at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 12. Other Civil Engineers guide the CTL operators and scoope away dust and debris during the process. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

The new process didn’t just introduce new material, but a whole new work system developed as a result of the new concept.

“Every shop has a part in airfield damage repair now,” said Sissel. “They have the Heavy Equipment guys out there running the heavy equipment, they’ve got the Water and Fuels Maintenance guys out there cutting the concrete, the Electrical guys are running loaders and sweepers, the Ops guys are running the warehouse to deliver all of the materials to the airfield, the Structures guys drive the trucks that deliver the material, so everybody has a piece in this RADR process.”

With the old system, only the heavy equipment operators and water and fuels personnel had parts in airfield damage repair. The new system relieves the burden from those shops but also requires more personnel to do the job.

Staff Sgt. Macaela Miller, electrician, 184th Civil Engineer Squadron, learns to drive an asphalt compactor in preparation for her role in the rapid airfield damage repair process at Exercise Silver Flag, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 13. For most of the electricians at Silver Flag, this was their first experience with heavy construction equipment. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

“It’s a whole lot more labor intensive and there’s a whole lot more equipment involved in accomplishing the mission and getting the airfield back in operation,” said Sissel. “However, the added labor gives you the benefit of getting the airfield repaired to a status that will last a whole lot longer, and give the combatant commander the ability to launch and recover aircraft in a much more flexible manner.”

Those new responsibilities add new safety measures, especially for the training squadron.

“The instructors walk them through everything to make sure they’re familiar and comfortable with some of the items,” said Vasquez. “Because of the advancement of training, it’s encompassing hands-on for everybody and introducing new [trades], especially in the Civil Engineer community, to operate certain vehicles that they normally would never operate.”

For instance, computers and phones are the primary tools for Civil Engineer operations managers. For the most part, they are not trained in any construction trade. However, in the RADR process, they’re responsible for managing the materials warehouse and operating large and small forklifts. One forklift in particular, called a telehandler, is a large vehicle that can extend a boom loaded with concrete bags over a cement mixer, which is a very dangerous but vital part of the RADR process.

Civil Engineer operations managers use a telehandler to lift bags filled with concrete into a mixing truck at the runway site during Exercise Silver Flag, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 13. The operations managers normally don’t participate in construction duties, but in the rapid airfield damage repair process, they play vital roles in managing the materials warehouse and bringing concrete supplies to the cement mixer. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

“It is very stressful with them because they’re maneuvering in tight spaces and because the forks are boom operated,” said Vasquez. “They have to extend out, pull the material from a conex box without tearing it and practice lifting it up. It’s nerve racking, especially for the instructors because we’re definitely worried about the safety aspect of it.”

The instructors made every effort to ensure the students learned their new roles, but also understood that safety was the top priority.

“As long as everything is taken nice and slow they get a little bit more comfortable, but we definitely focus on not putting students in situations where it’s going to get out of hand,” said Vasquez.

The message resonated. There were no reports of student injuries related to the RADR process during the training.

Force Support

Senior Airman Abraham Anwar (left), food services specialist; and Senior Master Sgt. William Combs, PERSCO team chief, 184th Force Support Squadron, bring tables into the dining tent in preparation for dinner at the field training site during Exercise Silver Flag at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 15. The dining tent was a medium shelter system that the Civil Engineer Structures Shop assembled earlier that day. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

Although the Force Support personnel made up a small portion of the 149 students, they made a huge impact on the mission’s success. The Force Support entity was a combined group of Services Flight members and Personnel for Contingency Operations, or PERSCO.

“It’s great to have PERSCO and Services here to assist the Civil Engineers and have us as one big team,” said Sissel.

“PERSCO is kind of like a liaison in certain situations for everyone who’s deployed, whether they need to get an ID card, we can assist with [administrative actions], and awards and decorations,” said Senior Master Sgt. William Combs, Silver Flag PERSCO team chief, 184th Force Support Squadron.

One of PERSCO’s main responsibilities is accountability of personnel throughout the entire deployment. That accountability includes processing in new arrivals. They know what structures people work in, what structures they sleep in, when they leave the base, when they return, and finally, they help people go home.

Staff Sgt. Tristan Davis and Chief Master Sgt. Randi Hill, 184th Force Support Squadron, and other Airmen assigned to the 184th Force Support Squadron, process approximately 150 personnel into a simulated deployed location near Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 7. Air Force personnel, both Active and Air National Guard, arrived from all over the world for Exercise Silver Flag, a two-week training event hosted by the 435th Construction and Training Squadron. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

To keep an accurate count, they produce situational reports, or SITREPs, which account for deceased, injured, missing or extra personnel. The Silver Flag training focused primarily on casualty reporting.

“PERSCO, overall, deals with SITREPs anytime there’s a casualty, regardless of death or injury, which would be issued based on what the criteria are,” said Combs. “We also deal with Red Cross messages.”

At the beginning of the Silver Flag deployment, the accountability maintained by PERSCO relied heavily on Lodging personnel, and that’s where they worked hand-in-hand with the Services Flight.

When people think of Services, they think of the most obvious part—food.

It’s true in most cases, that the only way people see Services personnel is when they get a hot meal at the dining facility. It’s also true in most cases, that what people see is only a small fraction of the whole story.

When people arrived at the tent city on the 435th CTS’s training compound, they were assigned a tent and a cot. The same thing happened when the students deployed to the field training site at Ramstein Air Base. Services personnel were the driving force behind both.

Airmen participating in Exercise Silver Flag build small shelter systems, also called Triple S tents, at Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, Aug. 8. The personnel broke up into crews based on their duty sections which gave those who didn’t know each other a chance to work as a team for the first time. Airmen from all over the world, including Air National Guardsmen from Kansas and Indiana, as well as German Armed Forces, were on-site for the training. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

“The main part of Services is the bed down of troops and feeding them, and then assisting PERSCO with accountability,” Tech. Sgt. Chris Guild, Silver Flag lodging noncommissioned officer in charge, 184th Force Support Squadron. “We had to plan where everybody was going to sleep down to the cot number because of the accountability. If something happens, or if somebody’s missing, we know who’s assigned where.”

Airman 1st Class Aimee Maldonado, food services specialist, 184th Force Support Squadron, prepares and serves hot meals from the Single Palletized Expeditionary Kitchen at the field training site during Exercise Silver Flag at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 15. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

Another part of lodging includes erecting small shelter systems, also known as Triple S tents. The Services personnel, with the help of other Civil Engineers, put up a few extra tents at the field training site.

“They all worked very hard. They busted their rear ends setting up tents and making sure we had a hot meal at least three times during the exercise,” said Sissel. “It’s nice to have them here to provide a hot meal, take accountability, get us through the processing line to deploy us down range and work here as a team.”

In addition to the lodging, the Services personnel also cooked two meals at tent city, one meal at the field training site, trained in search and recovery techniques, and practiced mortuary procedures.

“They were all very professional and worked very hard. I was impressed with their can-do, get-it-done attitude,” said Sissel.

The Germans

Seventeen German Airmen attend Exercise Silver Flag at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 6-17, for the first time since 1998. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

Just like in many deployed environments, this Silver Flag offered a coalition experience for the students. In addition to Airmen assigned to the U.S. Air Force, the class also hosted 17 students from the German Air Force.

The German presence was significant since the last time they attended a Silver Flag was in 1998.

“Twenty years ago, we had German Soldiers participating in Silver Flag and different courses they offered in Ramstein, then we got deployed to Kosovo and Afghanistan,” said 1st Lt. Dennis Jeworowski, officer in charge, German Training Platoon.

The German Armed Forces’ involvement in several conflicts during the last two decades didn’t allow much time for training other than the essential training needed for deployments. They were also transitioning from a Cold War-era defensive posture to the globally active force they are now.

“Now we have more time for exercises which will, I think, bring us further together and help us,” said Jeworowski.

Many of the German Airmen were instructors for a Civil Engineer training platoon near Cologne. Their school is set up much like the U.S. Air Force tech schools. Their primary mission at Silver Flag was to participate in and learn the new RADR process, and decide whether they were going to adopt the same methods.

Other German student were assigned to active platoons, which are the primary forces that go on deployments.

Training together, German and American Airmen learn the rapid airfield damage repair process that requires participation from all Civil Engineer career fields at a Silver Flag exercise, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 15. The Germans were eager to learn the new process to determine if they were going to introduce the same runway repair techniques to their training program. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

“Basically, the guys from deployments are here to see how the international [process] is going on and the cadres are here to teach,” said Jeworowski. “For example, we’re thinking about getting the rapid-set as well, and when we bring it in, our cadre will know how it works.”

According to the leaders, the coalition friendship couldn’t have gone better.

“I hoped that the guys would interact with each other but I didn’t expect it to be that good,” said Jeworowski. “They’re not in German groups anymore, they’re split up and have American friends. It’s pretty exciting and it’s going so well. Way better than I expected.”

Sissel couldn’t agree more.

“The German Airmen have also been very impressive,” said Sissel. “They’re highly motivated and very skilled Civil Engineer craftsmen. They’ve integrated extremely well with the American Airmen and have made a tremendously positive impact on the mission and the American Airmen.”

Field Training Exercise

Equipment Operators, also known as Dirt Boys, arrive at the field training exercise site at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 15. Their primary responsibility for bed down operations was to build berms for a large fuel bladder using heavy construction equipment. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

Airmen formed up at 4:30 a.m. outside of tent city on Aug. 15. Shortly after, they boarded buses and pickups and convoyed to their forward operating base at Ramstein Air Base.

Upon arrival, the Airmen went straight to work. They’d planned and prepared for this moment for more than a week.

“I didn’t realize how much planning it actually takes if you’re just going to a bare base,” said Senior Airman Erika Smith, food services specialist, 184th Force Support Squadron. “Most people, if they get deployed, they’re going somewhere that’s already established. It makes you look at it from a different perspective.”

Each shop had objectives listed from first priority to last. These priorities were essential in making their base functional at the most basic level and each job relied on the completion of another.

Electricians and Power Production specialists sort through cables and equipment as they deliver electricity to all of the structures at the field training exercise site during Exercise Silver Flag, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 15. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

“During bed down you’ve got to get tent city set up, you’ve got to get power, you’ve got to get water and get electrical, you’ve got to get the dining facility up, you’ve got to get the mortuary up, and everybody knows what their task is,” said Sissel.

“We have our Single Palletized Expeditionary Kitchen and it takes four people roughly two hours to get it going, but then you have to coordinate with Water and Fuels to get that going,” said Guild. “You need clean water and gray water drainage, and people need a place to sit. That’s where Structures came in and built the Medium Shelter System.”

The bed down process was off to a great start. However, this was a simulated combat environment and the Cadre weren’t going to let things go smoothly.

“They throw in a bunch of injects,” said Sissel. “You’ll get bombed, you’ll get hit with gas, you’ll get hit with fire or have a downed aircraft that the Fire Department has to respond to.”

Airmen take cover and prepare for ground attacks after multiple explosions occurred at Exercise Silver Flag, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 15. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

Within two hours of arrival, explosions occurred and things came to a screeching halt.

Based on the intelligence that was gathered leading up to the deployment, the Airmen knew that chemical and biological attacks were highly possible.

“The intelligence let us know that we needed to have MOPP gear ready and that we needed to have everybody trained up,” said Staff Sgt. Benjamin Harrigan, emergency manager, 122nd Fighter Wing. “The overall goal is to keep people alive. We want to make sure they’re wearing their protective gear correctly; make sure they’re taking the correct actions when an attack happens and after an attack happens.”

After the attack, the Emergency Management team got to work.

Staff Sgt. Benjamin Harrigan, emergency manager, 122nd Fighter Wing, investigates suspicious chemicals in a building during a Silver Flag training exercise near Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 11. Emergency Managers used state-of-the-art equipment to sample chemicals, test them, and determine if they’re life threatening. The students included Active Duty Airmen from around the world and Air National Guardsmen from Kansas and Indiana. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

“We ran detection routes, we set up detectors and we made sure the PAR teams were doing what they needed to do,” said Harrigan.

According to Airmen who have attended previous Silver Flag exercises, the time spent in MOPP gear is determined by the quality and knowledge of the Emergency Management team.

“I was very impressed with the Emergency Management shop and the fact that they were able to keep us working without our chemical gear on as long as we did,” said Sissel. “They were able to cordon off the areas and keep most of the shops out of chemical suits and get them back to work as quickly as possible.”

Despite multiple attacks throughout the day, the Civil Engineers and Force Support personnel completed all of the main objectives well before sun down.

The next morning, the Airmen formed up early for mission and safety briefs. Shortly after, they were greeted with more explosions. Based on reports from the Emergency Managers, the attack damaged the airfield but didn’t include chemical or biological threats.

After extensive assessments and an “All Clear,” the RADR process was put into action.

Concrete saws, excavators, the cement mixer, dump trucks, equipment and personnel lined up like parade. Following one final check for unexploded ordinance, the Civil Engineers were on the move.

In an assembly line fashion, four damage craters were cut out, debris was removed, the holes were filled and the runway was swept clean. By 6 p.m., the damaged airfield was fully operational, just in time for a distress call from an airplane that needed to make an emergency landing.

Electricians ran runway lights and provided power, the Power Production team set up a cable-hook system to stop the landing aircraft (similar to what aircraft carriers use), and the Fire Department was on scene to provide emergency services.

Civil Engineer Power Production specialists set up a cable-hook system during Exercise Silver Flag at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 16. The system stretches a cable across a runway for a plane with a tail hook to catch, forcing the plane to come to a quick and safe stop. The system is used in emergency situations. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

The mission was a success.

“It was quite impressive,” said Sissel. “This Silver Flag class is the first class to successfully complete the RADR and get the airfield operational. They’ve done extremely well under fairly hazardous situations, working together and pulling together as a team and executing the mission.”

The deployed Airmen packed up and returned to tent city. The next day was graduation day. Coins and certificates of appreciation were given to top performers.

After a short ceremony, the Airmen scattered back to where they came from. Some left that day and some throughout the weekend.

The Kansas Air Guardsmen returned to McConnell Air Force Base on Aug. 19 as two squadrons bound together by one great experience in Germany.

One hundred forty-nine Airmen from all over the world receive instruction by the 435th Construction and Training Squadron at a simulated deployed location near Ramstein Air Base, Germany, during Exercise Silver Flag, Aug 6-17. The 184th Civil Engineer Squadron and the 184th Force Support Squadron, Kansas Air National Guard; and the 122nd Civil Engineer Squadron, Indiana Air National Guard, were the bulk of the Airmen in training. The Cadre assigned to the 435th CTS provided instruction, equipment and living quarters during the two-week exercise. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)