Operation Northern Thunder Helps Security Forces Train for Deployment

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt Wendy S Ohl
  • 185ARW/PA
When most people were getting up to spend the day with their families on Mother's Day, 63 members of the 185th Air Refueling Wing stood outside the passenger terminal with their luggage preparing to board a KC-135. For the members of Security Forces and support personnel, this trip would take them from the cool Montana mountainside to Hawaii for two weeks of training.

This training, referred to as Operation Northern Thunder, began with firing range qualifications using various weapons such as the M-240 and M-249 as well as the M-4 and M-9. Once each member of Security Forces has rotated through each firing range, they would spend time on the ATV qualification track. ATV qualification consisted of learning how to operate an ATV and take it through a course set up using cones. In addition to the firing range and ATV training, there is also a station where members would learn how to quickly pitch a field tent and tear it down. And all this is just the first day of training.

"We have a lot of support from Col. (Brian) Miller," stated Lt. Roger Howard, Security Forces Commander for the 185th Air Refueling Wing. "He's done a lot for making sure we get what we need. This training is a requirement every three years to keep our troops qualified. It also helps to be able to cover things we just can't get done in a drill weekend with everything else that's going on. And it's a good way to get to know your troops."

Fort Harrison in Helena, MT is set up to allow Security Forces to accomplish the training they need, all within close proximity. The firing ranges are set up in one area to make it easier to transport troops from one range to another, allowing them to process through each range efficiently. The terrain around Fort Harrison makes the land navigation and convoy training an effective challenge. Hawaii provides opportunity to accomplish amphibious training and close quarter combat training needed to finish out their training requirements. Getting the troops in an unfamiliar environment is important to make the training most effective. When they deploy, they will be put into unfamiliar places, with strange customs and people they don't know.

During the entire two week training session, Master Sgt. Sonny Copeland, Sustainment Training Evaluator, from Phoenix, AZ, would be validating training and evaluating the team. He provided feedback on areas he feels the team is doing well and areas there is room for improvement. All this is done not as a part of a grading "pass or fail" system, but as a learning experience to make our Security Forces personnel better.

"So far things are going really well, there are a lot of sharp folk at the 185th." stated Copeland. "We'll see how the week progresses. The real challenges will come when they start doing the exercises. You'll see the leaders really stand out then."

Since September 11, 2001, Security Forces has been heavily tasked with deployments around the world in support of the war on terror. Training such as this helps build comraderie and allows leadership to spend time with their troops that training and other demands on their time prevents them from doing on a drill weekend. In this career field, more so than many others, knowing you can depend on the person next to you in a crisis is critical. Wasting a split second making a decision can be fatal, they have to be so well trained that response is automatic.

"There are a lot of new people in the unit now. After 9-11, a lot of the older, more seasoned members retired and we had a large influx of new troops." Howard reiterated. "This training is important to give those new troops a chance to practice skills they may need if they are deployed. I rely heavily on my Master Sergeants, and they've done a really good job."

Quite often Security Forces will be deployed overseas for base patrol, convoy security or personnel security. The skills they are practicing during Operation Northern Thunder will greatly help them learn the skills that may one day save their lives and the lives of those they are sent to protect.

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