JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX LAKEHURST, N.J --
After 48-hours of preparation and travel, the Airmen arrive at a bare base. The climate is 40 degrees colder than they’re used to, the terrain and landscape are unfamiliar, but they hit the ground running.
Within 24-hours, they arm every Airman and establish security. They assign teams that will patrol areas outside of their established limits and set up a fully operational Tactical Operations Center (TOC) that will be the brain of their base.
This is how the 824th Base Defense Squadron and 105th Security Forces Squadron from Stewart Air National Guard Base, N.Y., kicked off their Mission Readiness Exercise (MRX), March 12, 2018, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix Lakehurst, N.J.
“It’s important because the totality of events encompasses the task performance checklist that we use to validate the squadron’s readiness to deploy,” said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Meade, 820th Combat Operations Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of operations.
The MRX was a 8-day exercise designed to test both squadron’s ability to provide high-risk force protection and integrated base defense for air expeditionary forces.
Additionally, the MRX serves as a validation exercise where Airmen are expected to execute their mission anywhere in the world against any type of adversary. The 820th Base Defense Group exposes each of their squadrons to an MRX prior to the squadron assuming the Global Response Force mission.
“We try to make everything as realistic as possible but we’re also in a time restraint so the process is sped-up and escalated based on previous after action reports from similar threats,” said Meade. “It has to be realistic because we have to train the way we fight, so our scenarios are against near-peer adversaries.”
Another part of that realism includes responding to simulated deaths, which allows evaluators to see how the leadership adjusts to changes in manning and resources.
“The checklists we give our evaluators outline a standard and it’s the Airmen’s job to meet or exceed the standard,” added Meade. “For us, the criterion for passing (the MRX) is minimal deaths, because part of it is seeing how (team leaders) respond to that and (continue) proper execution of all deployment tasks.”
To ensure they exceeded expectations, the 824th BDS spent the last six months perfecting their tactics, techniques and procedures.
“We do a lot of tactical training at home station from convoys and building clearing, to scenarios in our military operations in urban terrain village,” said Carver. “We also recently qualified and trained on heavy weapons, which has made us more proficient in using them on patrols as well as defensive fighting positions (DFP) and entry control points (ECP).”
While the 824th BDS trained, Meade and the team of evaluators spent months planning to ensure the MRX mirrored realistic scenarios.
“The MRX takes the squadron out of their familiar training environment and challenges them from simple tasks like creating priorities of work and getting their base established to defending against complex attacks,” said Meade. “This year we decided to go with a change of scenery and temperature so we’re not just setting ourselves up to go to the desert every single time.
“This is the first time we were operating in snow and preparing for it was a big learning curve,” Meade added. “We usually aren’t buying cold weather gear since we’re based out of South Georgia.”
While evaluators were tested on outfitting the 824th BDS, the freezing temperatures tested all Airmen, from NCOs and officers in the TOC to Airmen on patrol.
“As a patrol I also check on Airmen at the DFP’s and ECP’s to ensure they have what they need and are staying warm,” said Airman 1st Class Alex Carver, 824th BDS fireteam member. “I thought the heat was bad but the cold is honestly much worse. Some people thought they could handle the cold but learned quickly that proper gear is important.”
Throughout the exercise, evaluators tested the capabilities and will of Airmen in the 824th BDS and 105th SFS to ensure they’re prepared to rapidly respond to all threats in any setting.
“Overall we’re learning how to operate in this environment and become more resilient mentally and physically,” said Carver. “This MRX helped show us we can perform in [any condition] and are ready for GRF tasking’s anywhere in the world.”