Improved Savannah training center still challenging Airmen

By Tech. Sgt. Mike R. Smith | National Guard Bureau

SAVANNAH, Ga. – It was quiet, but they say it never stays quiet here for long. As they stood before a patched cement flight line awaiting Air National Guard A-10 Thunderbolt pilots to arrive for a training event, several Airmen turned to enter the double doors to an empty operations building behind them.

Inside, many times before, some of the nation’s best Air Guard units had yelled through gas masks while training for combat. Now, the building was quiet; although, across the street construction workers hammered up a new operations complex. Near that, an environmentally friendly small-arms range and a high-tech firefighters’ training station lay ready for resonant gunshots and hose-team commands. Forty miles south, a modern air traffic control tower echoed radio static.

It has been three busy years of renovations, expansions, and operations at the Savannah Combat Readiness Training Center here and its Townsend Bombing Range 40 miles to the south. So although it seemed quiet, the ghosts of trainings past and present sounded a bright and busy future.

In that time, the Savannah CRTC has evolved to support a post 9/11 expeditionary force. Or maybe a smartly planned, cost-saving, one-stop joint training center for a busy Air National Guard and a nation’s joint operating military.

Actually, isn’t a training center where everything is made available to learn? So where do technology, budgets, and inspections work in?

The Savannah CRTC with its team of 128 Airmen and civilian employees address all that and play host to thousands of training events and servicemembers each year. So many Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines call this place so many different things. It’s one of only four Air Guard combat training centers in the nation, but officials say these centers do not compete with each other. Savannah combines resources with centers in Alpena, Mich., Gulfport, Miss., and Volk, Wis., to fulfill the Air Guard’s need for combat-ready Airmen who can integrate into multi-service missions.

“CRTCs play a very important role in this because they enable units to accomplish training that cannot be accomplished at home,” said Col. Floyd H. Harbin, Savannah CRTC commander.

With Army, Navy and Marine Corps units regularly using the center, Harbin said his CRTC also offers Airmen a “joint training experience” that would cost millions of dollars to reproduce elsewhere.

Now, Savannah CRTC officials say nearly three years of strategic planning are paying off by offering eager Guard units the latest in technology at a modernized, one-stop-shop. Also lining up are federal, state and local agencies and international military forces looking for the same.

“We just acquired 75-acres of land from the airport to expand to 223-acres, and we also expanded our coastal air space to allow high-altitude air combat training at the range,” said Harbin.

As construction continues, it becomes increasingly hard to recognize the CRTC from its former self. Looking from the main entrance, the center’s new brick buildings contrast sharply with its 50-year-old structures. Some buildings were modernized, if feasible. Other buildings – second-hand, worn down, leaking and occupied well past their expected life spans – are being demolished. Â

“They are no longer your father’s CRTCs,” said Patrick Welch, chief of airspace and ranges for the Air National Guard. He said that the training centers have come a long way from their beginnings as summer training camps. “All four CRTCs have upgraded communications infrastructures and state-of-the-art ranges and they offer a high quality of life services. They have also evolved to support operational readiness exercises and inspections and joint force exercises. They train in all aspects, and more than 700 units deployed to train at the four CRTCs in 2006,” said Welch.

The CRTCs offer bare base deployment sites, air-to-air ranges, air-to-ground ranges, rifle ranges, firefighting facilities, and joint combat training environments. Visiting units can fly simulated combat missions and bombing scenarios including laser and strafing practice. They can also provide computer-generated depictions of aircraft engaged in combat.

In short, the facilities act like forward operating locations and provide a realistic site for unit operational exercises and inspections.

Between 2005 and 2006, the Savannah CRTC alone hosted and supported 21 operational readiness inspections and exercises for Air Guard units. In the same time, the detached 8.1 square mile bombing range managed more than 3,000 aircraft sorties. The center also supported President Bush during his 2004 G-8 Summit.

They have also been working with the nearby 165th Airlift Wing to build a medical and multi-use operation, training and conference center, which will serve both units. The CRTC is also addressing future training shortfalls.

“The Air Guard will benefit greatly from a new training program and schoolhouse for combat communications,” said Harbin. The new schoolhouse will support air control squadrons and combat communications units. Harbin knows the need for it. He deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom with the 224th Joint Communications Squadron prior to his command at the CRTC. “This is the way for us to keep our Airmen in line with the Guard’s focus on new technology and the ability to operate in a joint environment.”

The CRTC will always be training Airmen for future battlefields. Its roots run deep in Air Guard history. The training center began as one of nine Permanent Field Training Sites in 1952. They were reduced to four bare-base training sites and re-designated in 1990 as CRTCs. In all, $45 million is now being allocated to refurbish and modernize the Savannah center, which has withstood its own test of time.

“Their utilization is high,” Welch said, “and not just by the Air Guard but by the Army, Marines and local and state emergency agencies. They offer just the right capability.”

It may not be a favorite place to go for Airmen because of their rigorous unit inspections held here. Nevertheless, Airmen will spend time at this CRTC far into the future.

“Our goal is to fit into the nation’s joint training capability,” Harbin said, “and this is the site.”

By Eartheditor

Hello. I am a prior U.S. Navy sailor and photojournalist serving on active duty with the National Guard – combined, for more than 24 years. This blog features my more memorable stories and photos from that news pile as well as creative writing. All images and stories are by me unless otherwise credited. I hope to backlog more as well as write new stories. Thank you so much.
- Mike R. Smith

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