NEWS | Jan. 14, 2008

Joint environment provides new training, new opportunities for servicemembers

By Staff Sgt. Austin M. May Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

Long deployments to operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations around the globe are steadily becoming more and more common for today's military.

As such, Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines often find themselves working together to accomplish tasks which may not necessarily be associated with their regular duties at their home stations.

Such is true for many servicemembers assigned to Joint Task Force-Bravo, and efforts are being made to further combine the skills each individual person brings to the mission here.

Army Sgt. Oscar Rivera, a parachute rigger assigned to the JTF-Bravo Army Forces Search and Rescue team, routinely trains with members of the Army and Air Force who learn skills necessary for the team to accomplish their mission. The SAR team consists of servicemembers from almost every JTF-Bravo major supporting command as well as various military occupational specialties.

"The SAR team trains on water purification, fuels, land navigation, slingloads, building rope bridges..." Sergeant Rivera said. "A lot of things that some of these people have never done for their jobs back home."

The sergeant said the current members of the SAR team are like "sponges" soaking up the training.

"They're all very motivated and catch on quick to the new skills being taught, he said. We give them info, and they suck it right up."

Sergeant Rivera said he had been deployed twice prior to being assigned to JTF-Bravo, and on both tours he worked closely with members of each branch of service every day.

"The type of joint training we're doing here definitely applies downrange," he added. "Everyone in the military should train like this."

The SAR team is not alone in their mission of training people from various career fields to perform a common task when called into action. The JTF-Bravo communications directorate recently launched a program designed to train servicemembers from outside the communications world in the use of their specialized equipment.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Charles Alford, one of two operations noncommissioned officers assigned to the communications directorate here, said his unit's "telecom academy" was created to provide more options for commanders when forward deploying teams to remote areas where communications are vital but limited.

"Communication technicians go on almost every mission JTF-Bravo performs," Sergeant Alford said. "We go on medical missions, disaster relief, humanitarian assistance and more."

At any given time, several teams can be deployed to locations throughout the U.S. Southern Command's area of responsibility, which includes all of Central America and often extends to South America and the Caribbean. With the limited number of trained communications specialists assigned to JTF-Bravo, it can be difficult to meet the communication needs of each individual mission, Sergeant Alford said.

The sergeant, an instructor for the two-day course, said he trains attendees on usage of more than seven types of communication equipment, preparing them to step up and fill the need for a comm. troop in the event one is not available.

"If they are tasked to deploy, we give them a quick refresher, and then they are good to go," Sergeant Alford said. He explained the trainees are more of a backup plan as opposed to a first-line option, but are there and ready in case they're needed.

"This extends the commander's options," he said. "With these people standing by, trained and ready to go, it's one less hurdle that can keep JTF-Bravo from doing what it has to do as quickly and efficiently as possible."

Students of the academy are all enlisted, and are randomly selected to attend. Both Soldiers and Airmen are eligible for the class, which puts four servicemembers at a time through an instructional period followed by performance of the tasks they learn. To date, 13 students have completed the course since its inception in November 2007.

Army Sgt. Stan Hofferber, training NCO for JTF-Bravo current operations, is a graduate of the "telecom academy." He said the instructors are very thorough, ensuring everyone who attends leaves with a full understanding of the equipment they may be called upon to operate.

"I feel like I could go at a moment's notice," he said. "At this point I don't think I'd even need the refresher course."

Sergeant Hofferber said the information he learned at the class will definitely come in handy in the future.

While the various skills one might pick up while at Soto Cano could save lives someday in the future, some believe there are immediate benefits to just learning side-by-side with members of another branch of the military.

Army Lt. Col. Gregory Jicha, JTF-Bravo ARFOR commander, said the joint training environment has long and short-term benefits for everyone involved. He explained how combining various career fields in one operating unit has unlimited potential for success.

"For the SAR team in particular, the primary goal is to bring the many unique skillsets of the servicemembers together in a common unit," he said. "Their number one mission is to be proficient in their individual specialties, and then train together to build a common framework."

The colonel said his number one goal while stationed here is to ensure every servicemember returns home trained better than when they arrived.

While some servicemembers assigned here may go back having done only their specific job during their tour, everyone will leave with the experience of working with another branch of service.

"What we're doing is strengthening the ties between the Army and the Air Force," Colonel Jicha said. "Most of these people knew nothing about each other's service branch before coming here. By working together, they develop an understanding of each others' capabilities."