JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
Personnel assigned to the 673d Air Base Wing participated in a semiannual operational readiness exercise known as Polar Force 19-1 at Camp Mad Bull on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Oct. 22 to 26.
“This exercise is our premier opportunity to evaluate our Airmen’s readiness capabilities in an austere or deployed location,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Staples, commander of the 673d Civil Engineer Group. “We have to make sure they can perform their core tasks in a contested environment as well as demonstrate their ability to survive and operate, which you just can’t really do at a main base.”
The scenario for PF 19-1 arranged for personnel to gather at a simulated deployed environment with minimal facilities available and figure out how to get the mission accomplished.
For this iteration, more than 300 Airmen from 10 different units participated, all of which had support functions enabling each other to get the mission accomplished, Staples said.
“This type of preparation is a paradigm shift back to the way we used to train more than 15 years ago,” said Chief Master Sgt. Shaun Krautkremer, the 773d Civil Engineer Squadron superintendent and PF 19-1 wing inspection team member. “It didn’t just provide worthwhile training, it also established a baseline for a way to move ahead and provided the Airmen an opportunity to build relationships with their teammates.”
The situations gave way to an opportunity for some of the older Airmen who have deployed multiple times, to difficult locations, share their experiences and knowledge with these younger folks, Staples said.
“This exercise showed me that our senior noncommissioned officers are more than desk personnel,” said Airman 1st Class Edwin Alpizar, a 773d CES structures apprentice. “They really took the lead and showed us how to build and manage things correctly in a location that requires you to adapt. I realized they knew more about our job than what I gave them credit for and more about being able to adapt to things you hadn’t planned on.”
Although adaption is a key to success, management and the skills learned through tangible experiences are also essential.
“These valuable, hands-on skills aren’t found in computer-based or upgrade training, you can only learn them by being in the field from some of the personnel who have already been there,” Staples said. “This method of training is a great opportunity to get to know your fellow Airmen and build your team. After all, you may not know how your brothers and sisters in the logistics readiness squadron, force support squadron, emergency management shop or other units contribute to the overall mission.”
This exercise provided a distinctive opportunity to put the phone down and learn what each unit brings to the fight, which ultimately brings unit cohesion, morale and resiliency.
“I think it’s important to remember that our Airmen do their jobs really well every day, regardless of whether they are finance, vehicle dispatch, electrical craftsman or mission support,” Staples said. “The thing is, they get to practice those things daily. Rarely do they get the chance to execute their deployed mission and purely remove themselves from their everyday base jobs and leave them behind to focus on their contingency mission. Giving them the time and space to do that is incredibly valuable.
“During these scenarios, we really liked seeing how the Airmen innovated, learned from their mistakes and built their experience database, so to speak,” he added. “Of course, your hope through this type of testing is that you are validated, knowing your Airmen are already prepared for what they might face.”
Conducting regular Polar Force exercises allows personnel to work through obstacles, so when the time comes, JBER can respond efficiently and effectively.
“I’m a structures guy by trade and I can’t tell you about every doorknob I have tightened or roll-up door I have fixed,” Krautkremer said. “But I can tell you about every exercise I have been in and the creative things I learned from them. I hope everyone embraces the mission and perpetuates that atmosphere forward in the future.”