U.S. and ROKAF Engineers – ready together
KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Airmen from the 8th Civil Engineer Squadron and Republic of Korea air force 38th Fighter Group combined to participate in joint training during VIGILANT ACE 16, Nov. 1 through 7.
The main purpose of this U.S. and ROK combined exercise was to enhance operational and tactical level coordination. Previous exercises focused on wing-level activities, but this year’s exercise tested the linkage between operational-level planners and tactical units. It also and increased the amount ROK air force participation.
“Here in Korea, especially at Kunsan Air Base, we live, work and play together, which brings us to appreciate the shared values that we have,” Maj. Mark Schoenbeck, 8th Civil Engineer Squadron deputy commander and night shift emergency operations center director. “Shared values build a greater bond than shared objectives.”
Along with building bonds, the exercises also promote interoperability.
“This exercise puts us and our Korean counterparts together responding to the same scenarios,” Schoenbeck said. “This forces us to communicate and work together to solve challenges that are more strenuous than your normal day to day tasks.”
As Airmen and their ROKAF counterparts solve challenges together, they’re also simultaneously learning and growing together.
“This exercise, with its focus on theater-wide objectives, has demonstrated our regional commitment by putting each of the bases involved in components as pieces to a bigger puzzle,” Schoenbeck said. “In previous exercises we were just focused in one base.”
Focusing on the entire puzzle helps prepare the alliance to respond to potential contingencies in defense of the Korean peninsula.
“Through a variety of scenarios, this training specifically tested our ability to react and survive as an installation with our Korean counterparts,” Schoenbeck said.
The training ranged from simple scenarios such as fires and probing attacks along the fence line to more complex attacks involving multiple situations that were spread out across the base simultaneously.
“Our main focus within the 8th CES was our fire department, where we have a mix of Americans and Koreans who work in our fire station every day,” Schoenbeck said. “We also teamed up with the ROKAF fire department to respond to several types of scenarios together.”
Both fire departments had an opportunity to practice on the live fire trainer, with vehicle response techniques and a variation of other training exercises.
“Working together to solve those challenges and respond to those scenarios all focused on the joint partnership,” Schoenbeck said. “With the fire department, we were specifically focused on emergency response skills.”
Focusing on response skills also enables both sides to resolve any operational planning issues.
“Our readiness and emergency management members work with their ROKAF counterparts to ensure the coalition can survive in all operating environments,” said Capt. Patrick Grandsaert, 8th CES fire department officer in charge. “We familiarize each other with both forces’ tactics techniques and procedures as well as forge excellent working relationships to increase our readiness.”
As U.S. and ROKAF partners focus on collaborating to solve challenges, inspectors challenge them by immersing the entire base in the scenarios.
“The second an Airman, American or Korean, walks outside their dormitory they are a player,” said Maj. Roberto R. Flammia, 8th Fighter Wing director of inspections. “We train like we fight and thus unless it is illegal, unnecessarily expensive or going to cause someone to get hurt, the Wolf Pack will execute exactly as they do in wartime.”
To maximize efficiency during wartime scenarios, both ROKAF and USAF Airmen have translators to help them break through any language barriers.
“We translate our presentations and mission products to the maximum extent possible,” Flammia said. “Body language, non-verbal cues and hand gestures go a long way.”
Along with the translation of presentations, ROKAF members and USAF Airmen partake in joint mission briefs and planning meetings. After the exercises end, both sides gather during a debrief to propose integration improvements.
“During the debrief we identify the best techniques each side is using and how we can adopt them to increase our synergy and cooperation,” Flammia said. “Thus, we exercise together to synchronize movements and procedures. If we find ourselves using different procedures in the field, we watch how it plays out.”
Synchronizing movements and procedures requires the 8th FW commander and the 38th Fighter Group commander to specify mission protocols from the top down.
“Installation commanders collaborate to establish to the desired learning objectives for Kunsan Air Base,” Flammia said. “Using their inputs as a starting point, the groups and units establish their own desired learning objectives. It is then the job of both teams’ inspector generals to create the script that ensures the Airmen achieve the DLOs and increase their readiness.”
When increasing mission readiness, U.S. and ROKAF members routinely collaborate to conduct exercises to help prepare the alliance to respond to any potential contingencies and to defend the Republic of Korea. Kunsan Air Base is the only base in PACAF that is exercising both on the ground and in the air with their ROKAF partners.
“Every time an alarm goes off, there is a medical response or a ground attack on base, both teams respond,” Flammia said. “This is unique, ground breaking even, and we are leading the way in the 7th Air Force and in PACAF in terms of integration with our national partners.”