October 10th marked the end of Polar Force 20-1, a biannual two-week mission readiness exercise designed to test multiple elements of the Agile Combat Employment concept of operations. The exercise allowed soldiers and airmen from units across Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, to develop and strengthen the skills required in austere environments and adverse situations.
This iteration saw a lot of firsts, including a helicopter medical evacuation of patients with simulated injuries, an Expeditionary Medical Support System tent in a simulated deployed environment, a Tactical Combat Casualty Care course (TCCC), and the use of drones to map a runway.
Civil Engineer Explosive Ordnance Disposal airmen cleared Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions during Polar Force 20-1 to simulate an attack on an airfield.
“We blew off 400 quarter-blocks of C-4 during this training,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Mike Staples, 673d CE Group commander. “This training event sets the stage for the next Polar Force in the spring when we’ll test our rapid airfield damage repair capability. This and other capabilities are critical to success in the multi-domain fight.”
CE Airmen on JBER partnered with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center using drones to view and map a runway prior to and after the simulated attack, providing the ability to identify damage the naked eye can’t see, said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Taona Enriquez, Camp Mad Bull commander.
“Over time, we’ll be able to see those overlays on top of each other and see the destruction that’s happened to the airfield, not only from attack but from wear and tear,” Enriquez said. “It’s giving us a baseline.”
This iteration of Polar Force also boasted the first Level 1 TCCC training course in the Air Force, the Department of Defense’s replacement for self-aid buddy care, Enriquez said. Airmen with the 673d Medical Group taught 118 airmen from different career fields medical skills that are useful not only in deployed environments, but also in providing immediate life-saving care to any trauma victim.
A major part of the exercise was the defense and operation of a simulated deployed base, Camp Mad Bull, as the hub of a simulated medical mission.
An element of the ACE concept is to deploy with a smaller footprint and less airmen. To accomplish this, airmen must learn how to perform tasks and functions of other career fields to augment each other when needed. Airmen who had never set up a military tent before were setting up living and working areas; civil engineers were supplementing defenders and learning how to refuel an F-22 Raptor; and paralegals were doing search and recovery for a simulated downed aircraft.
“In order for the ACE concept to be successful, we have to learn to be multifunctional, which is one thing we absolutely accomplished at Camp Mad Bull,” Enriquez said. “There’s no doctrine written for this. We were given the space and time to test this and that’s what we’re doing across all echelons.”
“It was inspiring to see airmen from different career fields learn something and be able to apply it,” Quam said. “We trained CE Airmen how to do litter carries on a live helicopter and two hours later, they were loading patients and taking patients off of live helicopters. They had never done that before in their life.”
In addition to cross-functional training, Polar Force is an exercise that allows base leadership to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each wing’s internal capabilities and identify the strengths and weaknesses that arise when working together. Identifying those weaknesses is used as an opportunity for improvement.
When EOD airmen were demonstrating their ability to operate in mission-oriented protective posture level 4 in a simulated hazardous environment, they had an issue pulling the firing pin with gloves on, Enriquez said. EOD leadership challenged its airmen to visit the JBER innovation lab to use the 3D printer to create something to pull the firing pin while wearing gloves.
The vision is for Camp Mad Bull to be a regional training site, and exercises such as Polar Force lay the foundation.
Source: Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson