JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
The 1st Combat Camera Squadron stationed at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., hosted an Ability to Survive and Operate exercise Feb. 2 through 13 for the third year in a row.
ATSO is a two week-long exercise with the first week focusing on weapons, tactics and documentation in a classroom setting and the second week in the field to practice the skills learned.
The purpose of the exercise was to sharpen Airmen's skills and their ability to operate as combat documentation specialists while deployed and to work with other teams they may encounter on a real operation.
"ATSO was designed to test the skills of our Airmen and how well they can perform their duties in an austere environment," said 1st Lt. Lyndsey Horn, exercise director from the 1st CTCS. "This year we wanted to create scenarios they may encounter such as finding an IED on patrol, calling a 9-line medevac, and engaging in combat. We revamped the use of non-lethal rounds fired from an M4 carbine, which leaves behind a paint mark on a target, increasing the realism and stress of the exercise."
On the first day of the field portion, 53 Airmen including a few members of the 3rd Combat Camera Squadron out of Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, boarded a C-17 Globemaster III and were flown to a simulated deployed environment at North Auxiliary Air Field in North, S.C.
The deployed environment was made up of a camp of seven tents and simulated host-nation villages were set up in the woods around the camp. Each day, the Airmen would participate in scenarios such as providing aid to friendly villages to raiding hostile villages.
Participants trained on foot patrols, convoys and documented the actions of the villagers, which were role players from the 1st CTCS. Airmen from the 628th Security Forces Squadron observed their actions and provided critiques on their tactics.
"Not only are we grading how well they can perform as a team in stressful situations, we are also looking at how well they can produce images and videos," Horn said. "Our job is to provide ground level imagery to combatant commanders and after every scenario we had the combat camera teams load up their imagery to see how well they documented the event."
Airmen from the 628th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal team were integrated into the teams for the first time this year, and according to Airman 1st Class Joshua Sanders, 628th Civil Engineer being integrated with combat camera was a learning experience he is grateful for.
"I've haven't had the opportunity to deploy yet and being out in the field with other teams has been great," Sanders said. "I've gotten the chance to learn how other teams perform and I've honed my skills during these exercises."
Soldiers from the South Carolina National Guard brought in a UH-72A helicopter to assist combat camera Airmen with aerial imagery and calling in 9-line medevac. Medics from the 628th Medical Group were also present at ATSO to asses any real world injuries.
"This truly was a joint operation and nearly 100 Airmen provided support to make ATSO possible," Horn said. "As a tenant unit on the installation we couldn't have done the exercise without the support of the 628th Air Base Wing. The exercise was a success and we will take back lessons learned to hone our skills as combat camera Airmen."