GRISSOM AIR RESERVE BASE — A picturesque scene of Hoosier corn waving in a warm summer breeze was shattered with explosions of gunfire and shrill screams of pain as Grissom transformed into a battlefield where freedom and life hung in the balance.
While the small-arms reports were just blanks and the screams were just actors, that didn't take away from the realism as U.S. Airmen, Marines and Soldiers came together during the base's second annual joint, mass-casualty exercise Aug. 4.
During the exercise, named Operation Rudy Strong, 434th Air Refueling Wing medical, security forces and explosives ordnance disposal Airmen teamed up with Grissom's Marine reservists to support a democratic voting process in a simulated Middle Eastern country.
"This was built around an actual scenario I had to do on my last tour in Afghanistan," said Capt. Mark Trouerbach, Grissom's Detachment One, Communication Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 45, 4th Marine Logistics Group inspector instructor. "Voter registration is a big deal, but it's also a very big deal for the enemy because any way they can delegitimize the government the better it is for them to build the propaganda."
"You want to be able to establish a safe environment for people to vote," Trouerbach added.Helping create that safe haven for democracy, a Marine CH-46 Sea Knight, flown by Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 774 at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., as well as a handful of Grissom Army reservists, Indiana Army National guardsmen, and Marines from other units around the country also participated in the exercise.
The cooperative endeavor further added to the percussions and performances to bring about a realistic environment as many real-world military operations are conducted jointly, said Lt. Col. Peter G. Weber III, the 434th Aerospace Medicine Squadron optometrist who spearheaded the exercise planning.
"The realism of it is extremely important, and with the joint forces aspect, we are really able to build in that realism," continued Weber. "Having air support, the thunder and boom, smoke going off, IEDs going off around you, it all builds a sense of urgency."
Though authenticity was a big portion of the exercise, getting good, solid training was paramount to the training's success, which meant some actors had to break role and instruct from time to time.
"You obviously want realism here and a sense of urgency with the chaos, but if you continue to do something wrong, it's negative learning," explained Lt. Col. Charles Good, a 434th ARW combat readiness 'OK, this is how it really needs to be,' so you can turn that negative in the positive."
Having Airmen and Marines work hand-in-hand also provided for an expanded scenario that offered unique training opportunities, said Trouerbach.
"Collectively, the joint operations with the Air Force were great because we got to utilize their security forces as well as their medical staff to deal with multiple scenarios at the same time," Trouerbach explained. "The training environment was phenomenal for the Marines and Airmen."
Working together also provided the servicemembers with an exercise in communication and teamwork.
"We speak different languages and don't always use the same acronyms, so it's very important to learn how to communicate with each other, not just over radio, but person to person," said Trouerbach. "We need to learn how to build relationships with each other, trust each other, and have a one-team, one-fight mentality."
And, come together as one team for one fight they did as Operation Rudy Strong kicked off early Sunday morning with a Marine assault force swooping in via ground convoy and helicopter to secure a voting facility at Grissom's old fire station.
In a matter of seconds, yellow smoke and gunfire abounded as the assault force quickly dispatched the enemy, who had staged an ambush. Embedded with the Marines were 434th Security Forces Airmen and two Air Force EOD technicians from the 434th Civil Engineer Squadron, who used their expertise to clear improvised explosive devices in the building that were set by insurgents.
"The chaos was very accurate," said Trouerbach. "There are a lot of things going on — you have enemy shooters from different directions, or you try to clear a room you thought was clear, but you missed one little closet, so it's very accurate."
Despite their overwhelming initial victory, the Marines weren't spared losses as several received simulated wounds during the attack, so Air Force medics from the 434th Aerospace Medicine Squadron raced in via helicopter and immediately began to triage and perform combat lifesaving treatment to the wounded.
After the wounded were treated and evacuated by air, 434th SFS personnel assisted Marines in protecting the voting process. This involved setting up a security perimeter and screening civilian voter registrants for potential threats such as weapons or IEDs.
Shortly before registration began, an insurgent was able to sneak a simulated IED into the screening area and deploy the weapon with devastating results. Over 20 people were wounded in the attack that stretched the capabilities of both the Air Force medics and Marines providing CLS care.
After the wounded were treated, insurgents were secured and the civilian populace reassured, the voting registration process took place without a hitch, and the exercise was called to an end. However, when a military exercise ends, the learning still isn't complete.
Participants, planners and evaluators gathered together to conduct a hot wash, an event that takes place immediately following a simulations to discuss success and failures as well as future challenges and goals.
"Everyone did well, but with any exercise or practice, you're going to find things that can be improved," Good explained about the entire process.
"We are always the harshest critics of our own, so the medics in my view have a lot we can learn and a lot we can improve on, and the Marines, in my opinion, are the best thing since sliced bread, and I'm glad we're on their team," said Weber. "If you talk to any of the Marines, theirs was the exact opposite; 'Sir, I can't believe how good your medics did and how on point all the medical staff were.'
"The unique thing of these exercises is the appreciation you get for what your brothers and sisters in arms do," he concluded. "Both of us think our own teams have a lot to learn and improve on, but the other guys do a phenomenal job, which builds that teamwork, appreciation and a gladness that we're all fighting the same fight."