Training for the 'real thing' - Lessons learned from combat training

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Samuel King Jr.
  • 53rd Wing Public Affairs
There I was, face down, low-crawling across 20 feet of New Jersey mud in full gear with a helmet, flak vest, web belt, two canteens, first aid kit, M-16 and four 30-round magazines. 

It was Day 1 of field-training at Air Force's Advanced Contingency Skills Training at Fort Dix N.J., one of many new combat courses that are now becoming mandatory for Airmen in forward-deploying Air Force career fields. 

The 10-day course consisted of tactics, convoys, combat medical skills, night operations, urban combat, hand-to-hand techniques and much more.
But the one thing that's stuck in my mind is the first rule of CST: Don't drop your weapon. 

God forbid a weapon hit the ground. For my 50-person flight, God came in the form of a Marine-hardened Tech Sergeant named Johnson. His punishment for a weapon hitting the ground: 15 (four-count) pushups. What made this seemingly annoying but simple task tough was that it was in full gear, and oh yeah, with the weapon resting on your hands. 

During one of our push-up sessions, the words escaping me at that moment were, "This sucks." 

But then at about the ninth push-up, it dawned on me that it could be a lot worse.
For starters, the already heavy flak-vests most of us were wearing didn't even have the protective plates in them. I'm told, the plates weigh about 20 pounds a piece. In the real world, the gear would be 40 pounds heavier. That would be worse. 

Second, the blanks and simulated bombs we were taking cover from and the simulated bodies we moved to safety could be real. 

Third, the breezy, wet, sometimes chilly weather could be replaced with 100-degree heat and humidity. 

The reality of those situations could be worse. And yet, there was most likely somebody else half a world away who was experiencing this situation for real. At that moment, I realized someone over there may be low-crawling in full-gear, while AK-47 bullets wiz by, to pull out a mortally wounded battle-buddy. 

That person may have gone through this very same course, saying the very same thing I did and like me, thought, "I hope I never have to use any of this training." 

As I recovered from my last push up, I hoped he or she remembered what I was just discovering to help avoid casualties and stay out of harm's way: "Keep your head down," "Don't leave anyone behind," "Watch your fields of fire," "Push, pull, thrust," and most of all "Don't drop your weapon."