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Simulator enhances training for next generation of LROs

  • Published
  • By John Ingle
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — When disaster strikes, its fury can take an insurmountable toll on infrastructure, property, and more importantly, life.

From hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes and ice storms to man-made disasters, there is no boundary to the effects a single incident can have. It’s the response to such calamity that can make a difference in a relatively quick recovery or prolonged agony.

The Air Force’s ability to respond when called upon begins with logistics readiness officers, who, among other things, are responsible for overseeing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts to include setting up supply and distribution chains, logistics planning, and transportation. Preparation of readiness officers to perform those tasks as directors of operations in a squadron begins here at the 363rd Training Squadron’s Air Force Logistics Officer School, and that now includes the use of model and simulation software to enhance the learning process.

Maj. Matthew MacDonald, chief of training for the 21R Logistics Readiness Officer course, said the implementation of the cloud-based software enables students to war game their plans and see them in motion. They will also use the classroom technology during their capstone event, where they brief a senior logistics officers on their plans.

He said the simulator pulls from Google Maps and other software to provide a real-to-life experience of going through the process of identifying their requirement, evaluating the capacity they have on hand and problem solve which course of action they want to take to meet the objective. The simulator can pull in real-time data between truck and aircraft route, supply point drop-offs, longevity of supplies, when to resupply and other information over a 14-day period.

MacDonald said it requires students to take a scaled-down look at the requirements of the operation and how to meet them, run it through the simulation and come up with a data-driven decision based on facts and not a “guesstimate” of what will happen, he said.  LROs are also able to make risk to force and mission assessments by using the tool.

“Ultimately it comes down to synthesizing the data. It’s a very complicating scenario. There’s lots going on — different modes of transportation, tradeoffs — but ultimately coming down to thinking critically about a problem then using this to put into a single picture, a single operating picture,” he said, adding there has been a traditional fractionalized approach to problem management training in the past. “If we think of them in very siloed approaches, I don’t think it gives them a true, effective training method because in real life, you’re applying all of these skill sets at the same time.”

Capt. Katia Pillot, a member of the 725th Air Mobility Squadron Detachment 1 at Moron Air Base, Spain, and recent student in the course, said she saw the execution piece of logistics in action in Honduras following Hurricanes Eta and Iota, powerful storms that pounded the Central American country less than two weeks apart in November 2020. 

She said the airport near San Pedro Sula, which served as a primary hub for receiving mail and cargo, was under water. A runway at an airport near the capitol city of Tegucigalpa was unusable for more than a month because of damage. The only operable airstrip large enough to hold aircraft as large as a C-5 Super Galaxy was at Soto Cano Air Base in East Central Honduras.

As the logistics flight commander for the 612th Air Base Squadron at Soto Cano, she led the team that supported all incoming aircraft by unloading cargo such as humanitarian aid. She said she worked with  the Honduran Air Force and several non-government organizations providing relief to the devastated country.

Pillot said although she wasn’t part of the planning stages of the humanitarian relief operations, it was interesting to see the general plan executed when called upon. The LRO course at Sheppard, she said, has provided insight as to how Joint Task Force - Bravo planned for disaster relief efforts before the storms hit. But, it’s the unexpected obstacles such as destroyed infrastructure, issues with fuel and receiving goods that can derail the best-laid plans.

But good LROs are expecting the unexpected.

“Real world, I have already been operating under, ‘Hey, it’s nice to have a plan, but I know in the back of my mind that it’s going to change rapidly,’” she said. “I think as LROs, we always have that in the back of our minds.”

While change is expected, Pillot said this course has taught her the importance of getting immersed in the actual plan and understanding all facets of it to have a clearer picture of the mission and expectations.

“This class brings me to think that if I did that, at least I would have a general idea of who we’ll be partnering with, who they’re pulling resources from, that would’ve been helpful,” she said. “Going forward in the future, if I’m able to be part of any organization where we have to respond to any disaster, one of my first steps will be to see what plan they have from the get go.”

MacDonald said the March graduates were the second class to use the simulation as part of their capstone event. As with the first group to use the technology, he said they will collect feedback from this second batch of students to continue improving the process and produce well-prepared logisticians for the Air Force.