Civil engineer Guardsmen test their mettle during apocalypse-style exercise

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Susan Penning
  • 193rd SOW Public Affairs
Buildings on fire ... weapons-wielding military responders in head-to-toe protective gear ... a shelter "city" swiftly constructed in an austere and dangerous environment ... it's the stuff of post-apocalyptic TV shows. It's also a realistic scenario faced by Guardsmen at the 193rd Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron.

Each year, 193rd SOCES Airmen meet at the Fort Indiantown Gap Regional Training Site in Annville, Pennsylvania, to participate in a three-day training exercise designed to test their mettle under some of the harshest field conditions. The goal is to prepare them for various deployment situations. 

The exercise, aptly named a "bivouac," describes a military encampment made with tents or improvised shelters, usually without barrier protection from enemy fire. The term is derived from the French word, bivuac, meaning "by watch."

This year's bivouac, held Oct. 3-5, brought together personnel from the fire department, emergency management, operations and power production. All Airmen involved were tasked with performing their specific missions in a simulated wartime environment. They were also evaluated on the effectiveness and efficiency of their coordination with other squadron sections, according to Senior Master Sgt. Timothy Sevison, bivouac coordinator and 193rd SOCES superintendent of fire and emergency services.

"Our top priorities for this bivouac were team-building, making sure our Airmen could accomplish basic skills in a 'deployed' environment, and supporting the squadron's goals and commander's intent," Sevison said.

Together as a team, exercise participants simulated the planning and construction of a forward-operating base from the ground up. Among other tasks, they assessed the risks associated with the location, established fire safety and power needs, and ensured shelter systems were adequately equipped, according to Sevison.

Day one of the exercise focused on convoying the group to the regional training site. Once there, each shop immediately assessed the situation and reported to the squadron command section regarding field conditions, specific needs, capabilities, etc.

Days two and three focused on individual section training accomplished through various field exercises. In one example, a construction shack was on fire, wounded individuals were on the ground, and detectors indicated the presence of a chemical agent in the vicinity. Among other skills, this scenario required Airmen to demonstrate rescue, decontamination, shelter and alert communications training.

After the exercise ended, section supervisors offered an evaluation of their shops to squadron leaders, including information on the group's response time and success in completing mission-essential tasks.

Providing this exercise feedback allowed the squadron to thoroughly assess its strengths and challenges.

"It's no surprise to find that our Airmen excelled at obtaining resources and performing their jobs," said Lt. Col. Robert Bennett, 193rd SOCES commander. "I'd like to see us improve with regard to the flow of information. Because this exercise involved continually integrating our different shops, efficient and accurate communication was a challenge."

In addition to improving team collaboration and individual skillsets, this exercise also helped cover 193rd SOCES ancillary training requirements, including camouflage cover and concealment, vehicle operations, small shelter systems construction and airfield lighting.