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ECST prepares Airmen for deployment

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Lauren Johnson
  • 1st SOW Public Affairs
Who would have thought all those hours spent playing paintball and in the arcade would be put to use in the Air Force? For Airmen going through Expeditionary Combat Skills Training, they very well could be.

Recently, the Air Force mandated ECST for deploying Airmen in non-combative career fields, and Hurlburt Field hosted its third session April 11-13.

"The Air Force has always been behind the (front) line, but now we're right in the mix of things," said Tech. Sgt. Gary Barrow, 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron and training NCO-in-charge. "The course is designed for Airmen who wouldn't otherwise receive combat training."

ECST provides classroom and hands-on instruction in self aid and buddy care, basic weapon use, and field and urban combat skills.

During the first training day, Airmen use the Fire Arms Training Simulator, a virtual M-16 target shoot that resembles a video game.

Staff Sgt. Jason Chapman, 1st SOSFS, said FATS has been around for several years as an element of traditional security forces training. FATS focuses on fundamentals and allows Airmen to "analyze problems and eliminate them before working with live fire," he said.

The trainees fire a series of rounds at an on-screen target, then the program analyzes each shot by mapping gun movement that occurred prior to the shot, which can disrupt accuracy.

The results bring surprise, and often laughter, to the students.

"It's cool to see what you're doing before you shoot," said Senior Airman Dustin Lundgren, 1st Special Operations Equipment Maintenance Squadron. "It can help with anticipation before the shot."

Airmen Lundgren said it's harder than it looks, but he enjoyed using the system.

"I didn't know we had video games," he said. "I can't wait for the upgrades."

Day two brings students outdoors and features instruction in individual and team field movements. Airmen navigate their small groups back and forth across the field with commands to move forward, drop and cover.

"It's fairly rigorous, especially with the body armor," said Senior Airman Stephen Edwards, 505th Training Squadron. The trainees work with 35 pounds of equipment.

Airman Edwards said most of the classmates weren't acquainted before ECST, but the training brings them together quickly.

"There are only three people from my squadron in this class," he said. "There are a few distinct groups, but everyone is good about chatting, talking and sharing experiences they've had."

Group dynamics are key on the last day of training, where ECST culminates in a series of scenarios to test the students' skills.

The scenarios are designed to reflect situations Airmen might find themselves in while deployed, Sergeant Barrow said.

Airmen are equipped with full body armor, including masks and helmets, and M-16 rifles modified for simunitions, which mark direct hits similar to paintball rounds.

With guns in hand and new skills up their sleeves, they fight their way through an ambush at a broken-down vehicle, defend a piece of land, and weave through buildings and enemy fire to secure a helicopter landing zone.

According to Sergeant Barrow, the course is a success.

"We're doing well," he said. "The course is ever evolving, ever changing to adapt to new tactics and techniques used in theater."

Airman Edwards said the course gives students an idea of what to expect in a deployed environment.

"It's a good course," he said. "For anyone going on their first deployment, it's very beneficial."