NEWS | Jan. 21, 2014

1st CTCS hosts ATSO exercise with AF combat camera squadrons

By Airman 1st Class Clayton Cupit

The 1st Combat Camera Squadron at Joint Base Charleston - Air Base, S.C., hosted an Ability to Survive and Operate exercise Jan. 6 through 17.

This year, the 1st CTCS invited all four Air Force Combat Camera squadrons with the 2nd out of Hill Air Force Base, Utah and 3rd out of Joint Base San Antonio, Texas attending for the two-week long exercise.

The exercise is designed to sharpen Airmen's skills and their ability to operate as combat documentation specialists while deployed.

The first week of the exercise consisted of intense classroom training taught by experienced combat documentation specialists who have been on multiple deployments as combat cameramen.

After the first week of training was complete, more than 90 Airmen from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd CTCS were transported to a nearby camp at North Auxiliary Air Field, S.C., their simulated deployed location for the duration of the exercise.

The Airmen were separated into four groups of approximately 24 Airmen. Each 24-man group was further divided into two teams of 12 Airmen each. Each group would eat, sleep and train together as one cohesive unit throughout the week.

"I learned how to be more effective in a team, so that when I deploy I am not a liability to myself or others," said Senior Airman Roswell Sartwell, 3rd CTCS combat broadcaster. "The three combat camera squadrons worked as one to accomplish the same goal of being better combat documenters as well as more efficient combat Airmen."

Each group would spend an entire day learning about various battlefield threats including: Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape as well as Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosives.

Other portions of the training included Tactical and Convoy operations and Self Aid Buddy Care. "This training has a lot of value to me," said Sartwell. "It's something I can take back and show the rest of my squadron what I've learned here."

The Airmen started each day at 6 a.m. and trained until 8 p.m., and sometimes beyond. There was also a set time for documenters to edit photos or video when training was done for the day.

The SERE portion of the training consisted of hand-to-hand combat skills, disarming an enemy, navigation and surviving in the wild.

The CBRNE portion of the training tested Airmen and their ability to quickly gear up head to toe with protective clothing and masks to prevent contamination such as biological, radiological or just airborne toxins to themselves and their equipment. Airmen also had to thoroughly document a hazardous waste scene in a short amount of time.

Medical specialists from the 628th Medical Group trained the Airmen on Self-Aid Buddy Care and how to treat real world medical concerns. The medics spent the entire week in the field with the Airmen.

Aside from the SERE and self-aid buddy care, the Airmen trained on tactical procedures with experienced combat documentation specialists from morning well into the night.
The Tactical portion included: weapons familiarization, team tactical movement and close quarters battle.

The Airmen went on numerous patrols where they were met by small arms fire from role players. Shoot houses were also set-up where the Airmen were trained on close-quarter battle and proper procedures for clearing buildings.

There was also convoy training which required individuals to enhance their voice communication skills and alertness. The convoy rode a set route with artificial IED's set up throughout the course.

Airmen from the 628th Civil Engineer Squadron, Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit made the scenarios as real as possible and provided oversight during the training.

"This was a great learning experience," said Airman Taylor Queen, 2nd CTCS combat cameraman. "The scenarios felt very realistic and I know I'll be more prepared if I ever have to experience this in a deployed location."

The final day of the exercise tested the Airmen on all the skills they learned inside and outside of the classroom with a four part, four-hour scenario.

"Our Airmen periodically deploy with one another, so this training provided them the opportunity to share similar skill sets to grow and develop those skills sets together and to get to know each other better ," said Lt. Col Michael Johnson, 1st CTCS commander.

ATSO was brought back last year after six-years of not conducting the training. This year, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd CTCS were all able to go through the training together to improve synergy among the Airmen.

"The success of this year's ATSO rests solely on the shoulders of the Airmen and their attitude, commitment and motivation," said Johnson. "There wasn't a day between last week and this week where the morale and attitude wasn't very high."