VOLK FIELD, Wis. — Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center once again demonstrated its value as a premiere training destination for America’s Airmen during an innovative two-week competition in June.
Two Wisconsin National Guard Airmen recognized a training need within the Air National Guard ammo community — and they, along with countless others, found a solution.
Master Sgt. Charles Weyers, munitions flight chief, and Master Sgt. Robert Watters, senior munitions inspector at the Volk Field Air National Guard base, saw years of planning come to fruition as Volk Field hosted a first-of-its-kind Air National Guard Ammo Rodeo.
“The idea of an Ammo Rodeo started with our predecessors and we took the torch and ran with it,” Weyers said. “Every time we heard ‘no,’ we would find another way to communicate the need for this training. It took a long time, but we just never quit.”
The culmination of their efforts and the support of the National Guard Bureau resulted in a two-week bomb-building training and competition. The first week consisted of a classroom portion where bombs were built in a classroom setting with hands-on training. In the second week, participants were divided into teams to compete against each other by building 80 bombs from a pre-determined build production (FRAG) order.
“This is a bomb-building event to build morale, increase lethality and network between munitions troops” Watters said. “Many of these people are going to stay in the military for 20 years. If they can get to know each other now, then they will already know each other later when they’re deployed down range.”
Another objective of the event was to increase interoperability between the 95 different Air National Guard units that have Airmen in the munitions career field. Watters explained that Airmen in smaller units want to deploy and go downrange, but fighter wings prefer ammo personnel with continuous hands-on experiences in bomb-building.
“The fighter units, they build bombs on a weekly basis, but then you go to a C-130 or KC-135 base and the munitions troops at these bases don’t build bombs at all, except what they did in tech school and at the Air Force Combat Ammunition Center (AFCOMAC) in California that we can go to twice in our career” Weyers said. “The ammo rodeo gives all Airmen in the munitions career field the opportunity to learn with each other and from each other.”
The innovation and drive to improve displayed by Watters, Weyers and other organizers demonstrates the professionalism of the force, and this sort of competition ultimately helps build and maintain readiness for National Guard Airmen who have a no-fail dual mission as the primary combat reserve of the U.S. Air Force and as the nation’s first military responders.
The interest in such training is evident. Out of 69 applicants, 48 were picked by the National Guard Bureau to attend the training. Selection criteria included diversity factors such as rank, skill levels, gender, and unit aircraft.
“We had 48 people here from 25 different units” said Tech. Sgt. Robert Schwerin, a munitions member from the 115th Fighter Wing and advisor during the Ammo Rodeo. “We have people who have 20 years of experience all the way to less than six months. We strategically separated everyone into three groups, ensuring that the most experienced people were spread out to use their knowledge and expertise.”
In the first week, students worked on bomb builds that would prepare them for the competition the following week. This included hands-on training and software training using the Combat Ammunition Systems (CAS).
“CAS is a computer system that we use to track everything, the components to the bombs, the built up rounds, where they go from the trailer to which aircraft is flying the bomb,” said ammo rodeo student Staff Sgt. Susan McAllister, a munitions member from the 124th Fighter. She explained the importance of using CAS during the scenarios because in the real world, accurate record keeping and accountability in these efforts enables munitions personnel to track down solutions during investigation efforts should problems arise.
“It’s really important for everyone to know how things work together and the training this week has put it all together,” she added.
The competition began during the second week. Students were divided into three new teams that rotated each day — one crew built bombs based on a FRAG order, the second crew transported components and restored packed assets, and the third crew tore down built assets. The tempo was fast-paced and as realistic as possible.
“This is simulating WWIII just kicked off and these Airmen just got off the C-17 and they’re out there and they need to build fast and essentially defend the base,” Watters said as he described the environment during the competition. “In this scenario, it’s a bare base and they have to work quickly to build this entire FRAG by the deadline — it’s not going to be easy. They are being scored on time, accuracy and accountability — doing the buildup in the virtual world and then doing the buildup in the real physical world.”
During the exercise, Master Sgt. Gary Kmecik, a munitions member from the 148th Fighter Wing who served as the pad-dad (i.e. team lead) for his team, summarized the experience as beneficial and definitely something he would do again.
“Not only did we get the munitions training and the experience in a high-tempo environment on competition day, but we also got a nice overview from our functional area manager (FAM), which was interesting to me as a traditional Guardsman,” Kmecik said. “Now I don’t feel like I’m just a person from a base in the middle of the United States, but I’m part of a whole ammo family. There’s a lot of comradery in the Guard and especially in the ammo career field.”
Plans are in place to make the Ammo Rodeo a yearly event, with the next one to take place in fiscal year 2018. Interested participants should expect to see a data call by late summer to early fall 2017.