FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. –
FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – It’s no easy feat to build a base but civil engineers are prepared for the job. To prove the necessary contingency skills are maintained, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center hosts the ultimate test for civil engineers to showcase their capabilities: the Air Force Civil Engineer Readiness Challenge.
In preparation for Readiness Challenge IX, the Air Force District of Washington team, consisting of Airmen from the 11th and 316th Civil Engineer Squadrons, conducted a training event at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, the week of March 13, 2023.
“Joint Base Andrews and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling have teamed up and are getting ready to compete at Readiness Challenge IX down at Tyndall Air Force Base,” said Master Sgt. Javier Hernandez, 316th CES member and the AFDW team NCO in charge. “We're using this time to prepare our contingency skills and make sure everyone is qualified.”
The Readiness Challenge, which resumed in 2022 after a more than 20-year hiatus, is a contingency skill competition for Air Force civil engineers. Teams will be expected to demonstrate unit type code capabilities in a contingency environment while exhibiting their esprit de corps and warrior ethos.
The Readiness Challenge focuses on three things: building a warfighting culture among civil engineers, assessing unit readiness and building engineer contingency skills.
2nd Lt. Michael Riege, 316th CES member and the AFDW team lead, explained the Readiness Challenge is a test of CE’s true mission: the ability to build a base.
“Looking forward to the future fight, there may be an airfield that’s just one long strip of asphalt and concrete,” said Riege. “CE is going to be part of the first team out there securing the area and will have it running as a fully functional base within two weeks.”
In order to test the capabilities needed for contingency operations, the Readiness Challenge requires teams to be prepared for any scenario; there are more than 40 potential competition events but they will not be assigned until the competition begins.
“We'll be evaluated based on how quickly, safely and efficiently we set up and troubleshoot these assets,” said Riege. “What we're doing [throughout the training event] is getting everyone hands-on experience that they might not have had since their last deployment or their last formal Air Force training.”
Riege noted that while civil engineers are trained to deploy these contingency assets, the skills are not practiced on a regular basis. CE’s job on home station is to maintain the base’s infrastructure but these daily operations in garrison do not represent their true capabilities.
“[We have] the day-to-day skills to fix HVAC units, replace lights and take care of the airfield here on home station but what really matters is our warfighting capabilities,” said Hernandez. “An airfield or base is a weapon; it's something we can project aircraft down range. That's our main mission. And those are the skills we're finding here at Fort Indiantown Gap.”
The training event gave the AFDW team an opportunity to focus on and re-familiarize themselves with these down range and bare base assets that will be showcased at the Readiness Challenge.
“Pilots have their show of force by doing flyovers and things like that,” said Riege. “The Readiness Challenge is the civil engineer enterprise's show of force to major commands and combatant commanders.”
The Readiness Challenge incorporates joint exercise and operations, reflecting the new Air Force Generation, or AFFORGEN, model of deployments. The new model will replace the current Air Expeditionary Force construct with a 24-month cycle comprised of four six-month readiness phases, helping to balance today’s combatant commander needs while building high-end readiness for the future.
“Another reason we're practicing as a joint team is because, in the future, we are going to be deploying as regional teams under the new AFFORGEN model,” said Riege. “We’ll be practicing, training and getting certified as a team before we hit the door. That's what's cool about this challenge; we're practicing the new model of deployment where the Readiness Challenge is the culmination of that deployment.”
Hernandez also commented on how joint operations and the team-focused model builds high-end readiness and sustainability for the Joint Force. “It allows Airmen to work with teammates they typically wouldn't see on a normal rotation. They'll be able to pick up different skills and lessons learned, and then put that all together during these training events and ultimately perform better.”
After a week of training with their AFDW teammates, the team is looking forward to the competition.
“This Readiness Challenge brings us back to our roots and our foundation,” concluded Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Scheerer, 11th CES electrical systems NCOIC. “The guys before us were doing the Readiness Challenge since the ’80s and I was always a little jealous not being able to compete. To finally be a part of it is incredible.”
Readiness Challenge IX will be held April 24-28 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. Follow the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling social media pages for updates on the AFDW team’s performance.