Public Affairs embeds with Security Forces for realistic training

  • Published
  • By Capt. Suzanne VanderWeyst
  • 115th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
"Cease fire!"  The firefight ends. Squad leaders gather their members for accountability and make sure all have enough water and ammo for what they may encounter next. Master Sgt. Dan Richardson recognizes the opportunity to record an interview.

He brings one of his squad members behind a large rock, integrating in the brevity of the moment both the need to conceal and cover and find good lighting for his video shot. The sun is starting to go down and Sergeant Richardson knows this might be one of the last interviews he can get for his broadcast story. In the pressure of the moment, there's no room to forget details like having the video camera on the wrong settings.

Though the rounds shot were blanks, the scenario was just as serious for Sergeant Richardson and two other 115th Fighter Wing Public Affairs members engaging in a first-time experience of embedding with Security Forces during a 115th Security Forces Squadron combat skills training exercise at the Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center, Wis., Nov 7.

Their mission was to get the story under the stress of learning how to navigate in a combat environment, while simultaneously providing Security Forces Airmen training on escorting people who aren't necessarily security experts, said Sergeant Richardson, 115th FW PA manager and broadcaster.

"We didn't really know what to expect when we came up with this idea a few weeks back," said Sergeant Richardson. "It was good training for us to work on being able to do our job while under the pressures of looking out for threats, making sure you're back behind the person who's escorting you and doing exactly what they need you to do."

Opposite Sergeant Richardson's squad, Master Sgt. Paul Gorman gathered photo imagery and Airman First Class Ryan Roth recorded print interviews while attached to the 2nd Squad composed of Airmen from the 115th SFS and the CRTC SF.

Each squad had to first navigate through difficult terrain on combat patrols, meet their required checkpoints and deter threats, all within a strict timeframe. The routes were orchestrated in such a way that the two squads would inevitably cross paths and engage in combat. Once the patrols ended, both squads mounted vehicles and convoyed to their final objective where they came under ambush and heavy fire.

"I thought it was unique," said Airman Roth. "Being a journalist, you're always trying to get the story from the person you're interviewing except we're part of the story now. We're with them and you know exactly what they're talking about because we experienced their patrols, what they did in navigation, the importance of 360 defense and all of it. It was great!"

However, Airman Roth said he also found it difficult to ask the right questions and find the story while being part of the greater mission of the patrol and convoy. Lessons learned for next time.

Beyond the advantage of an insider viewpoint, PA members gained experiential understanding of equipment needs in combat situations where they may need to lay prone in defense position or dismount a vehicle quickly.

"The greatest benefit for a PA photojournalist or broadcaster is learning how to handle the equipment and a firearm simultaneously and what apparel or accessory equipment you can use that will make that prospect of being able to handle both more feasible and useful," said Sergeant Gorman. "I learned a lot of things we have and that I tried here don't work and as a result, I know what to look for next time and how to make that process run smoother. I think that's tremendously beneficial."

From Security Forces' leadership viewpoint, the concept of embedding PA in their combat skills training held similar value.

"The reality is you see civilian news agencies with military and the idea that we have kind of a noncombatant you're responsible for, who doesn't necessarily have all the training, brings an added responsibility for the squad leader and the members of the squad," said Master Sgt. Todd Weinberger, 115th SFS unit training manager. "It's certainly a good training tool for Public Affairs personnel to be with ours so our Security Forces can get a good taste of what that might be like."

Though none of the 31 SF Airmen going through the training have ever had to embed media within their unit when deployed in a combat environment, Sergeant Weinberger said training should be forward thinking.

"It's the idea that we always train for the possibilities of the potential of something happening and certainly this is an added chapter to what our responsibilities include and things we have to consider," said Sergeant Weinberger.

This same proactive approach to training was the driver behind Sergeant Richardson's thought process once he heard about the opportunity to work with the 115th SFS leadership on planning the PA embeds within their exercise.

"It was nice of the Security Forces' leadership to understand the PA mission, its importance and the value added to the training that they were able to give their people by handling us as media in this kind of combat environment," said Sergeant Richardson.

By the end of the almost 12 hour day, all three embedded PA members were speaking the language of the defense posture or convoy tactics they learned while under the command of their squad leaders whom they grew to respect very quickly. These were the people who would keep them alive.

"Security Forces played a great role and the leader of our squad, Staff Sgt. Adam Dax, did an excellent job in pointing out where I should be at all times, what my field of fire was, where I should be looking and my positioning in the squad," said Airman Roth. "It was an amazing experience, one in which I don't think I could have prepared myself for without having this opportunity."