ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
There are just inches to spare. As you’re sitting in a confined space that can be oppressive and daunting, precious seconds can mean the difference between life and death.
But you’re not sitting alone. Facing five other body-armor protected Airmen, with a driver and passenger who are out of sight, you collectively wait for the signal. Then it happens.
The vehicle you’re in – a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected MaxxPro – rolls slightly to the left then right, eventually coming to a full stop 180 degrees from where you began. At this point you’re upside down, at the mercy of those who put you there. In a real-world situation, you wouldn’t have the immediate benefit of knowing what just happened.
Documented headlines from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan detail stories of military members who have withstood improvised explosive device attacks. Vehicles such as the MRAP were procured and produced at the height of the war in Iraq in the 2000s.
Because combat communicators travel across the globe, providing expertise in connectivity and communications capabilities in austere environments, their mission can take them anywhere.
This particular day’s training provided students with an understanding of how to react in a highly volatile rollover situation.
The 5th Combat Communication Group Combat Readiness School at Robins dedicates an entire day of training to prepare students for what it’s like to roll over in an MRAP.
Conducted at Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Georgia, the most recent class of 31 students comes from throughout the Air Force’s combat communications community.
Following an early morning drive from Robins, the class watches a safety video. Then it’s a short walk to a lone-standing armored fighting vehicle, perched on a raised platform, secured under an outdoor shelter in a location far from prying eyes.
Its sole purpose: to defend its occupants from IED attacks and ambushes.
The MRAP MaxxPro was the same vehicle that saved the life of Tech. Sgt. Alfonte Thomas, a CRS instructor, who survived injuries following an IED attack while deployed to Iraq years ago.
“No matter what job you’re in, you never know when you could be in that situation,” Thomas said. “Take it seriously, take care of each other and take in the things that are being taught.”
After strapping on about 60 pounds of body armor, a helmet and safety glasses, each student slowly ascended a small flight of steps at the rear of the MRAP trainer. Once seated, each took care to ensure their seatbelts were properly secured. Grab straps hung above.
A voice can be heard inside from a speaker. Just beyond the closed doors at the controls, Staff Sgt. Kevin Weier, with the 820th Combat Operations Squadron’s Innovative Combat Equipment, told the MRAP’s occupants what to expect during each roll.
“A lot of this is muscle memory,” he said. “Ideally, they should brace themselves. Once the vehicle is stopped, they should make sure they can find an open door, have good communication and get out as quickly and safely as possible.”
For several minutes the vehicle’s eight occupants experience the adrenaline-infused understanding of the space between realism and futility.
Once you’re on a roll, the body goes where it goes. Sometimes up and to the side, sometimes down and to the right. But always somewhere. And when you stop, there’s only minutes to spare.
As the vehicle rests, on the outside a single voice steadily rises: “It’s very important that you scream – rollover, rollover, rollover!” emphasizes Tech. Sgt. Charles Pickett, a CRS instructor who teaches medical readiness.
On this particular day he oversees how students are reacting to injured comrades, tending to them as others hastily scramble to secure the outside of the vehicle. Getting out quickly is imperative as you don’t know if an enemy is in the vicinity, further provoking an attack.
“What’s important about the training is they have to be ready at all times,” explained Pickett. “They can be in a situation exactly like this where injuries happen, even inside a vehicle. People get knocked out, people break arms when they release, and if they aren’t trained for it, then they don’t know what to do.”
Tech. Sgt. Chaddrick Webb, 53rd Air Traffic Control Squadron, said the training was an eye-opening experience.
“Once I went through the entire scenario – the rollover, getting out, posting security and having 100 percent accountability – it opened my eyes to exactly what I should be looking for and what I should be doing,” Webb said. “Important things are making sure you’re secure, quick to get out and being vigilant, knowing your surroundings and doing what’s necessary for safety and security.”
Staff Sgt. Joseph Fletcher, visiting from Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, agreed.
“Another important aspect is staying relaxed. When you tense up, you won’t know what to do,” he said.
Simulating stressed environments for deployers to learn, while remaining safe, is the number one goal, said Tech Sgt. Ryan Petersen, Combat Readiness School NCOIC.
“While inside the simulator, airmen experience realistic motions and sounds coupled with visual graphics specifically designed to replicate a vehicle being disabled by an IED or other explosive,” he said. “Incorporating this into training generates a realistic experience and better prepares them to react if placed in a hostile convoy situation.”
He continued, “Our hope for each class is that no student ever has to employ any of the material we teach; however, in the event one does, that each person is able to walk away from it and return to their friends, families and loved ones.”