KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Mississippi —
“Exercise! Exercise! Exercise!” boomed out. These are words that many base personnel know, no matter if they are military, civilian or contractor.
While an exercise for the normal base population ranges from a shift to a full week, for planners it can take anywhere from 30 days to plan a simple exercise scenario to over a year to plan exercises. more complex exercises.
For the 403rd Wing, the lead exercise coordinator is Danica Sancic, 403rd Wing Inspection Program Manager.
“A big part of my job is to coordinate with the appropriate agency, whether it’s Air Force Reserve Command, Numbered Air Force, base, group, or any base agency, such than emergency management,” she said. “For example, emergency response exercises are the responsibility of the host wing, and our wing fits in as each plan calls for us to do so as a tenant unit.”
During a unit effectiveness inspection cycle, Sancic is responsible for ensuring that the required exercises listed in Air Force Instruction 90-201, The Air Force Inspection System, are complete for 403 Wing.
For example, Sancic said natural disaster preparedness, preparedness and response exercises involve the 403rd Wing more because of the unique mission of our wing, the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, and the location of Keesler Air Force Base on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Working alongside 81st Training Wing Exercise Controller William Mays, who is in charge of Keesler’s exercises, Sancic must coordinate the 403rd’s exercise objectives in Keesler’s exercises, which can sometimes be a challenge to jointly achieve all objectives and effectively test both wings.
“We hold these drills for a number of reasons, first, it’s an AFI requirement,” Mays said, “and second, it’s our responsibility to assess people to see if they can perform their job. “
For Mays, the 81st TRW determines which exercise it will work on and passes it on to those involved in the planning process.
So when it comes to planning an exercise, Sancic said, “The first step is to identify what needs to be tested, when it will happen, and schedule it.”
Once a date is set, they meet to determine the scope and scale, obtain commander approval, and coordinate with the 81st throughout the exercise planning process.
Mays and Sancic both acknowledge the challenges they face trying to tie the 403rd’s exercise objectives, which can sometimes be a wartime mission objective, to the exercises of the host 81st TRW.
“The objectives are established based on the overall planning document, with each specialty providing inputs for items they may wish to accomplish during the exercise at the same time,” Sancic said. “We would set goals for those elements and create a scenario to test each of those things.”
The final exercise was a Natural Disaster Medical System exercise, which was executed by the 81st TRW. The exercise simulated the evacuation of personnel to Keesler AFB from an area affected by a natural disaster.
For this exercise, the objective was to ensure that “patients” were followed and that medical personnel could contact civilian hospitals and local agencies for assistance, while transporting these patients from the base to a community partner hospital.
“For our wing, we added targets for the 53rd WRS and the 36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. Their role was to provide assistance in transporting ‘patients’ evacuated from the affected area,” Sancic said. “An additional objective of an anti-piracy exercise had to be added to the mix.”
Once the exercise has started, a member of the Wing Inspection Team for each sector assesses whether or not the objective has been achieved. If not met, the WIT will describe how it was not met and what the discrepancies are.
“If we’re lucky, we can write a benchmark or best practice defining how we excelled in achieving the goal,” Sancic said. “I really like doing that.”
Another aspect of an exercise is contingency planning, because like everything else in the military, flexibility is the key to airpower. In this case, weather conditions led to plan changes and parts of the exercise had to be rescheduled for safety reasons.
At the end of the exercise, Matthew Jalufka, 81st Medical Group Medical Emergency Manager and Spirit member, summarized the importance of planning for the unexpected.
“There’s what we plan, what we think we’re planning, and the reality of what happened in that plan,” he said.
The exercise is not over at ENDEX. WIT meets with exercise planners to discuss what they found and what they can improve.
“Take what you saw to your team leader or WIT,” Jalufka said. “So we can integrate those three things into a new plan and start the vicious cycle all over again.”