JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. —
The 87th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight recently wrapped up their annual Cerulean Raptor Field Training Exercise (FTX), July 12, 2019 at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.
This year, the 87th CES EOD flight’s week-long exercise hosted flights from the 177th CES EOD out of New Jersey Air National Guard, the 166th CES EOD flight from Delaware Air National Guard, the 436th CES EOD flight from Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, the 633rd CES EOD flight out of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia and a team from NATO partner, Albania.
“We set out to be different,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Overton, 87th CES EOD acting flight chief. “Many EOD FTXs use training lane scenarios where observer controllers run one Counter-IED scenario and conduct a hot wash with the team immediately after the operation. While there is a place for this, we sought to recreate the realism of running operations down range from lessons learned by our team leader corps, and utilizing our senior non-commissioned officers in a capacity that we could expect in that environment.”
According to Overton, the eight teams stayed overnight, Monday through Friday, camped in a building to simulate a deployed environment at the Training Ranges near Joint Base MDL. Each morning, the teams reported to a tactical operations center ran by a senior NCO or the Operations Desk. The senior NCO then provided battlespace management and facilitated evidence collection, intelligence and fusion.
This is where the exercise differs from other FTXs.
“Teams were required to think about more than just defeating the IED, but collecting the evidence, reporting and elevation of trends,” said Overton.
Collectively, the EOD teams conducted 72 operational scenarios across three days building up to a planned operation on day four – against an adversary based on intelligence gathered from the previous three days of FTX.
“This FTX allowed each observer/controller to take ownership of their scenarios and employ IEDs, caches, UXOs and other items based on their personal experience in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria,” said Overton. “This resulted in a more realistic training for teams while building the unit cohesion lost when EOD specific pre-deployment training venues went away.”
U.S. Air Force Capt. Jay Marrou, 87th CES EOD flight commander, also added that this training allowed more senior EOD technicians to impart their knowledge learned in contingency environments on members who have not experienced combat deployments.
“I’m really proud of how things came together,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Christopher Tolley, 87th CES EOD training NCO in charge. “The intent of the exercise was to share lessons learned from previous battlespaces and bridge the gap between generations. I feel like we exceeded our expectations.”
The Cerulean Raptor FTX key elements included testing new and old tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) as well as encouraged teams to communicate and react to changes in the battlespace based on the emerging threats. As new threats emerged in the area of operations, the teams could capture that and pass it along to their unit; track trends and gather evidence.
“This is a critical skill for EOD team leaders to develop and is not often seen in formal skills-based training,” said Tolley. “Typical lanes based training usually discourages cross talk as it will compromise all the teams running the same problems, however we developed a fully-functional battlespace with problems that would encourage teams to build these types of communication skills.”
The 87th CES EOD flight was able to complete their annual FTX, while also strengthening the partnership with NATO partners.
“We were very pleased to be able to share our exercise with our NATO partners this year,” said Tolley. “The scale and scope of this year’s Cerulean Raptor provided an opportunity to bring in EOD teams from Albania. Their attendance afforded them a chance to test their TTPs in very realistic settings, share their experiences and build relationships. We drew on a wide range of international IED threats and devices to help benefit the Albanian teams as they support our NATO mission abroad. We look forward to working with more of our NATO partners in the future.”