Leaning back in the desk chair in his office late in the afternoon on Thursday May 4, 2023, Lt. Col. Randall Gibbs took a moment to think of the best way to answer the question, taking in the multitude of events and situations that had transpired during the past 13 days of training.
“Really, we have been looking to do this since I was selected for command last summer,” he explained.
Nearly a year ago, Gibbs was selected to take command of the 908th Civil Engineer Squadron at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, and ever since then he has been working to find ways to see what the squadron is made of.
He finally got that chance during the last two weeks.
A large portion of the squadron, approximately 50 members, spent nearly 16 days together, training on everything from Air Force Specialty Code specific tasks to war-fighting tasks that further develop the multi-capable Airmen to be ready for the future fight.
Homestead Air Reserve Base
The annual tour training started Saturday April 22, with an accountability formation. Then the real fun began on Sunday with travel to Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, where the civil engineers would spend the next seven days training on many job-specific skills by working various tasks that Homestead and the 482nd Fighter Wing provided.
Homestead Air Reserve Base was selected as a training site for multiple reasons. One of which is the 908th is designated as a tenant unit on Maxwell Air Force Base, with the host unit being the active-duty 42nd Air Base Wing. Because the 908th is a tenant unit, there are many things the unit doesn’t have control of or isn’t authorized to do on and throughout the installation. Many of the services the 908 CES trains to provide, such as addressing work orders in and around facilities, and items used by the wing or in the wing’s footprint throughout the base, fall under the purview of the 42nd. On top of those limitations, much of the equipment required by 908 CES members to work the jobs entailed in their AFSCs is not available to them at Maxwell Air Force Base.
Recognizing these restraints, Gibbs, along with other senior leaders within the squadron, began to look for innovative ways to accomplish what they felt was needed training.
“We had to get creative,” said Gibbs. “We had to think outside of the box and look for opportunities. It was a great chance for us to leverage relationships we have built throughout the Air Force Reserve Command.”
Using those contacts, the leaders reached out to the Air Force Reserve Command’s 482nd Fighter Wing at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, for a few reasons. For one, it is a sister Reserve wing, one who could understand some of the unique situations a Reserve civil engineer squadron could find itself in. Another reason is that they are the host unit on a reserve base. That means the 482nd doesn’t face the same limitations at Homestead as the 908th does at Maxwell.
“Partnering with the 482nd meant we would have the equipment and facilities to provide our members with high quality training,” explained Gibbs.
The 908th Airmen spent the next week getting reacquainted with all kinds of equipment, including mobile volume mixers, boom forklifts, excavators, all terrain forklifts, front end loaders, sweepers, graders, pneumatic rollers, dump trucks, cargo trucks, electrical line trucks, backhoes, and mobile asphalt vehicles.
“Homestead was great for us,” said Senior Master Sgt. Adarryll Reeves, a section lead and senior noncommissioned officer in the 908 CES. “We were able to get our skillsets up with hands-on training to prepare us for a down-range deployment.”
Gibbs echoed Reeves sentiment and expanded on it by providing thoughts from his perspective.
“I believe our time at Homestead was very successful and productive for us,” explained Gibbs. “As a leader, some people forget that we are in the people business. This was the first chance that many of us had the opportunity to get to know each other and form relationships. Leaving Homestead, they carried that momentum back to Maxwell and stayed highly motivated the entire time.
Maxwell Air Force Base
After seven days of training at Homestead, the civil engineers traveled back to Maxwell on Sunday April 30, 2023, in preparation for a slight shift in training focus. While there still was AFSCs and job-specific skills training, the majority of training at Maxwell was centered around agile combat support and employment.
Monday started off with the squadron’s emergency management section hosting a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear training event.
The training began with a classroom portion that covered such items as how and when to properly don and doff the personal protective equipment for each mission oriented protective posture level to reviewing the different alarm colors and what each entail.
After the classroom portion of the training, Airmen in the class then went outside and donned their gear for MOPP 2 conditions. The 10 fastest members to properly don their gear where then chosen to place and set up post attack reconnaissance routes while the remaining members went over the proper ways to cover assets.
Next up was an escalation from MOPP 2 to MOPP 4, which required extensive buddy checks to ensure things were done correctly. After that, members then executed the PAR routes and called in status reports, followed by checking on covered assets.
For Staff Sgt. Debra McGrew, a structures specialist in the 908 CES, the value in and purpose of the training was clear.
“This training is to make sure we are ready for the next fight,” explained McGrew. “This training makes us work together and take care of each other. It’s important in order for us to stay ready.”
Tuesday saw the squadron teaming up with members from the 908th Security Forces Squadron for some intensive training in areas such as: defensive fighting positions, integrated defense, individual and team movements, and room clearing procedures.
“Having our security forces members come out and provide that hands-on training was extremely valuable for us,” explained Reeves. “For some of us that have been around for a while, we haven’t received that kind of training in a long time.”
The next morning was spent training on land navigation, an area that saw teamwork rise as a valuable skillset, while also seeing different members step up to lead in in some situations.
“The land nav forced members to be collaborative and get the best out of each other,” said Reeves.
Reeves continued explaining the value he saw in the training.
“This training has helped teach me how to be a better leader,” said Reeves. “The purpose was to get us ready for the next fight. We wanted this stuff to be hard, to make our Airmen better, and to see them keep their morale high even when this stuff was mentally and physically demanding and exhausting was great to see.”
“I was excited to see how our squadron has accomplished the last two weeks,” said Gibbs. “It really takes a ‘want’ to be a multi-capable Airman, and our members have that want and desire. They get why they are here and have a great attitude.”
Speaking of multi-capable Airmen, Gibbs pointed out that the concept is nothing new to Air Force civil engineers.
“Working in this domain, multi-capable Airmen is not a new concept to us,” said Gibbs. “We have always had the mentality of one team, one fight. These members always work across shops and AFSCs when we are downrange. They come together and meet the task at hand.”
During the next couple of days, the squadron received first-level training in the new Tactical Combat Casualty Care, the Department of Defense’s new basic medical course for all DoD members.
The Airmen learned when and how to apply a tourniquet, a pressure dressing, how and when to pack wounds, how to place injured people in a recovery position and how to fill out information for next level medical care.
As the unit rolled into the weekend, they were now on days 15 and 16 straight of training. Going that hard for that long can take a toll on Airmen and sections, a potential dilemma that leadership wanted to see playout.
“The Airmen’s motivation and morale are still going strong,” said Reeves. “They banded together like a family, and they arose to the occasion.”
Gibbs, visibly exhausted, gave off the feeling of accomplishment back in his office.
“I believe we are truly trained and ready,” said Gibbs. “I saw NCOs step up and get after the task in front of them. They took the initiative without having to be told by someone with a higher rank. We have a great foundation now, and a strong team of civil engineers that are multi-capable Airmen.”
As for future large scale training events like this one, Gibbs and the rest of the team are already looking to the future.
“We learned a lot, and now we have best practices for the future and key areas that we can improve on,” said Gibbs. “Everyone worked hard and met the task at hand. But, there is always room for improvement. Even at the top, you can still stagnate, we are going to make sure that doesn’t happen to the 908th Civil Engineer Squadron.”
This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Civil engineers build esprit de corps during 2-week annual tour