On the desert ranges of Fort Bliss, Texas, there is a lot of open space for Soldiers to train and prepare for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Army operations are well-known here, but active duty, Guard, and Reserve security forces Airmen are on the range too.
Texas Air National Guard members trained the latest class of security forces Airmen here last week on the equipment, tactics, and techniques that take force protection outside the wire.
The Air Guard’s 204th Security Forces Squadron operates “Desert Defender,” the Air Force Regional Training Center here, which prepares active duty, Guard and Reserve security forces for area security operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The nearly 50-day course includes much of the same training Army Soldiers undertake before deployments, such as mounted operations on armored vehicles and dismounted operations in foot patrols.
“We also teach them counter-insurgency operations, which is critical in this timeframe,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Carl Alvarez, the squadron and training center commander.
Air Force officials say the inclusion of the deployment training here stems partly from a rewrite of Air Force installation security instructions and its newer integrated defense postures, which take security forces Airmen outside the wire to defend installations.
Just a few years ago, a cadre of Air Guard members started the schoolhouse from a few run-down buildings on Biggs Army Airfield and built it up through “a lot of hard work,” said Alvarez.
Today it is a U.S. Air Force certified regional training center with new buildings and classrooms as well as the latest military equipment.
“I think we have come a long way since the two-and-a-half years Desert Defender stood up,” said Alvarez. “Certainly in the last 18 months when it was certified as a regional training center.”
Now, the Air Guard training center is the sole schoolhouse for training active duty, Guard and Reserve security forces for these operations.
“It’s testament to the Total Force and what we bring to the table,” said Alvarez.
Nearly 40 instructors as well as additional support personnel run “Desert Defender,” which is a geographically separated unit of the 149th Fighter Wing, based at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
The mission provides combat readiness training to deploying security forces Airmen, which includes sniper/counter-sniper training, area security operations training and base security operations training for Air Force security forces.
They also operate the same equipment they will use in the war fight. “They have some of the best equipment that I have ever seen,” said Air Force Capt. Chris Jackson, an active duty security forces operations officer from Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.
During the training, Jackson led more than 24 Airmen in a field exercise with armored fighting vehicles, including the military’s newest Mine Resistant Ambush Protected-All Terrain Vehicle and up-armored Humvees.
When they armed their weapons and headed down a dirt road toward McGregor Convoy Live Fire Range #38, it was time to put their classroom training into action with bullets on target.
“The objective of today’s lesson is to ensure the defenders engage targets properly with everything from M2 .50-caliber machine guns to M4 rifles,” said Alvarez, which “includes understanding fields of fire, how to properly engage targets to the rear, to the right, and to the left while ensuring a safe convoy.”
The Airmen also trained at the post’s Military Operations in Urban Terrain site, where they learned the tactics for close quarters battles inside and outside city buildings.
Dismounted operations, said Alvarez, ensure that, should they go on a foot patrol, they move properly and know the techniques and tactics needed under fire. They also undergo rollover training and water survival courses to increase their survivability in those situations.
The Airman also gain expertise in a 40-hour Army Combat Lifesaver course. Alvarez said the classroom and field training follows a purposeful sequence to a final, all-inclusive, multi-day field training exercise at the end of the course.
“The training has been amazing,” said Jackson. “They provide the leeway for the students to taper their training and apply it in a practical manner that’s suitable to us, by our squads.”
Jackson said the security forces group he will deploy with consists of three squadrons. While the other two squadrons train at other training centers in base security operations, his squadron is training here, because it will execute the outside-the-wire mission at their area of responsibility.
It will be Jackson’s first combat deployment. “I feel really lucky to get this mission,” he said.
Tech. Sgt. David Butler, an instructor, said deploying security forces squadrons are a mix of those who deployed several times and those who are on their first deployment.
He added that working as a team is the greatest lesson they learn.
“When you get 13 to 14 different bases together and try to send them down range as a unit … it’s not like they ever worked together,” he said. “We hold their feet to the fire … they come out of here with a pretty good knowledge of what kind of team they are taking down range.”