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Exercises aren’t just PT

  • Published
  • By Jessica L. Kendziorek
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss.-- “Exercise! Exercise! Exercise!” rings out from the big voice. These are words that many on-base personnel are familiar with, no matter if the person is military, civilian or contractor.

While an exercise for the normal base population is anywhere from one shift of work to one full week, for the planners it may take anywhere from 30 days to plan a simple exercise scenario to over a year to plan for more complex exercises.

For the 403rd Wing, the lead coordinator for all things exercise related is Danica Sancic, 403rd Wing Inspection Program director.

“A large part of my job is to coordinate with the appropriate agency, whether that is the Air Force Reserve Command, the Numbered Air Force, the base, group, or any base agency, such as Emergency Management,” she said. “For instance, emergency response exercises are the responsibility of the host wing, and our wing falls in as each plan directs us to do so being a tenant unit.”

During a Unit Effectiveness Inspection Cycle, Sancic is responsible for ensuring that the required exercises listed in Air Force Instruction 90-201, The Air Force Inspection System, are completed for the 403rd Wing.

For example, Sancic said that the natural disaster preparedness, readiness, and response exercises has more 403rd Wing involvement because of the unique mission of our wing, the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron and the location of Keesler Air Force Base on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Working alongside the 81st Training Wing’s exercise controller, William Mays, who is in charge of Keesler’s exercises, Sancic has to coordinate the 403rd’s exercise objectives into the Keesler exercises, which can sometimes be a challenge to jointly meet all objectives and test both wings effectively.

“We put on these exercises for a couple reasons, one it is an AFI requirement,” Mays said, “and two it is our responsibility to evaluate people to see if they can execute their job.”

For Mays, the 81st TRW determines which exercise they are going to work on completing, and pushes that out to the individuals who are involved in the planning process.

So when it comes to planning an exercise, Sancic said, “The first step is to identify what needs to be tested, when it will occur and to get it on the calendar.”

Once a date is set, they meet to determine the scope and scale, obtain commander approval, and coordinate with the 81st throughout the exercise planning process.

Mays and Sancic both recognize the challenges they face with trying to tie the 403rd’s exercise objectives, which can sometimes be a wartime mission objective, into the host 81st TRW‘s exercises.

“Objectives are established based off of the overall planning document, with each specialty providing inputs for items they may want to accomplish during the exercise at the same time,” said Sancic. “We would build objectives for those items and create a scenario to test each of those things.”

The latest exercise was a Natural Disaster Medical System exercise, which was run by the 81st TRW. The exercise simulated the evacuation of personnel into Keesler AFB from an area hit by a natural disaster.

For this exercise, the objective was to make sure that ‘patients’ were tracked, and medical personnel were able to communicate to civilian hospitals and local agencies for assistance, while transporting those patients from the base to a community partner hospital.

“For our wing, we added objectives for the 53rd WRS and the 36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. Their roles were to provide assistance with flying the evacuated ‘patients’ in from the affected area,” said Sancic. “An additional objective of an anti-hijacking exercise was supposed to be added to the mix.”

Once the exercise starts, a Wing Inspection Team member for each area grades whether the objective was met or not. If it isn’t met, the WIT will describe how it wasn’t met and what the discrepancies are.

“If we’re lucky, we get to write a benchmark or best practice defining how we excelled in accomplishing the objective,” said Sancic. “I really like doing those.”

Yet another aspect of an exercise is planning for contingencies because as with everything else when it comes to the military, flexibility is the key to air power. In this case, the weather created plan changes and parts of the exercise had to be rescheduled for safety purposes.

At the end of the exercise, Matthew Jalufka, 81st Medical Group medical emergency manager and WIT member summarized the importance of planning for the unexpected.

“There is what we plan, what we think we plan, and the reality of what happened in that plan,” he said.

The exercise isn’t over at ENDEX. The WIT meet with exercise planners to discuss what the found and what they can do better.

“Bring what you saw to your team chief or WIT,” Jalufka said. “So we can bring those three things into a new plan and start the vicious cycle all over again.”

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