JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. —
More than 140 Airmen from Joint Base Charleston took part in Palmetto Challenge, a global mobilization readiness exercise at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina and Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, Nov. 1-7, 2019.
The goals of the exercise were to develop and maintain full-spectrum readiness and ensure JB Charleston’s Airmen are prepared for rapid mobilization and to support Air Mobility Command and DOD priorities.
The exercise trained Airmen in all aspects of maintaining a forward operating base in austere environments.
“This is an opportunity for us to really sharpen our skills and really experience something we may have lost focus on,” said Col. Bobby DeGregorio, 315th Airlift Wing Mission Support Group commander and exercise commander. “Your biggest challenge when you’re doing something like this is getting your Airmen to understand the core concepts of what it’s all about and keeping them motivated and hungry to learn. The expectation is that we’re going to crawl, walk then run. So far, I’ve seen some really great attitudes out here.”
Palmetto Challenge called to action both active-duty and reserve Airmen of all levels and backgrounds from the 628th Air Base Wing, 437th Airlift Wing and 315th Airlift Wing to make the exercise a success said DeGregorio.
“If you think the wars we fight and conflicts we get through aren’t being solved through total force or joint means then you’ve got another thing coming,” said DeGregorio. “It takes all of us to get the mission done. It’s an all-in fight and exercises like these give both reserve and active [duty] Airmen alike the opportunity to learn and improve.”
Wing Inspection Team members graded Airmen on a multitude of scenarios that required the cooperation of explosive ordinance disposal, security forces, command post, emergency management and other essential units. The scenarios enabled senior leaders to accurately gauge how effective Airmen would be while deployed and find ways to improve overall unit collaboration.
“When the Chief of Staff of the Air Force said that readiness was a top priority, the 437th at Joint Base Charleston took that seriously,” said Ronald Vickers, 437th AW director of inspections. “Readiness in a bare-base environment is an acquired skillset. We’ve been in continual combat since 2003 and many of the bases we’ve been working out of have become more established. The folks that originally set up those bare-base locations have either retired or moved on to other careers. We’re trying to allow younger Airmen to experience setting up bases in austere environments and integrating as units to better equip them and open their aperture up on what they need to bring and prepare for.”
To make training more realistic, participants received equipment, weapons and specialty uniform items similar to what they would receive during real-world operations. Airmen were even required to don Mission Oriented Protective Posture gear during various scenarios that simulated chemical or biological attacks.
“These scenarios are tough, they really are,” said DeGregorio. “We’ve been working out of bare-base conditions with very limited communications. We’re pretty spoiled at home station. I’ve been so excited about the attitudes people have had about this experience. You can’t walk by someone without seeing a smile on their face or seeing someone pumped to learn. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on the bare-base setup because Airmen understand that they need it and that its setting them up for success.”