Desert Defender continues to evolve as it nears 10th anniversary

  • Published
  • By Debbie Aragon
  • AFIMSC Public Affairs

FORT BLISS, Texas -- The mission of Desert Defender, the Air Force Security Forces Center’s Ground Combat Readiness Training Center, continues to evolve as the unit gets ready to celebrate its 10th anniversary later this year.

Established in 2007 as primarily an Air National Guard RTC, it now is the Air Force’s largest security forces readiness training center and focuses on training and equipping Air Force Defenders to meet the needs of combatant commanders downrange.

In 2014, with the closure of several other RTCs, it became a total force training center with active-duty, guard and reserve staff and cadre.

“Desert Defender is an amazing RTC,” said Lt. Col. Bernard Sprute, Desert Defender GCRTC commander. “We have a laundry list of courses we offer … everything from our standard security operations to close precision engagement, advanced designated marksman … we’ve also got a combat canine track.”

That list continues to grow.

The GCRTC recently graduated its first small unmanned aerial systems mission qualification training class, first joint Army-Air Force ranger assessment course and first joint Air Force-Navy security operations course.

Sprute and his team place a lot of emphasis on students receiving useful, realistic, intense training that serves them well in potentially deadly situations downrange.

“Here, Defenders are going to get a lot more hands-on training, tailored more consistently with what they would see downrange,” Sprute said. “It’s a lot more in-depth and the cadre provides a lot more fidelity to the training versus what they would receive as a basic security forces apprentice.”

Tech. Sgt. Matthew Burns, DDGCRTC independent duty medical technician cadre member, and his fellow cadre members say that students should experience realistic scenarios in the most chaotic and intense training situations that would then allow them to perform better when facing dangerous real-world situations in a deployed environment.

“Realistic training is extremely important,” said Burns, “as one of my great mentors put it, intensity of training is ease of reality … it’s extremely critical that training environments stress people.

“When you have a real situation where someone’s dying or there are a lot of people that are freaking out around you, you will always be able to revert back and say that my training was harder than this real-world situation,” he said.

With a curriculum based around the theory of crawl, walk, run, students build on their training and experience prior to deployment.

For example, the improvised explosive device lane of training begins with classroom instruction of the types of IEDs seen and tactics used by the enemy. Next comes a trip to the field where an instructor helps students search for indicators and hidden devices.
Finally, students take part in a field exercise where their student squad leader takes them through realistic scenarios with no cadre assistance. Cadre members are present, however, to evaluate their performance and help guide squad leaders to ensure training is getting done correctly.

“A lot of people – until they see it hands on and are shown it two or three times – don’t realize what’s going on,” said Tech. Sgt. Joshua Ashliman, an Air Force Reserve 94th Security Forces Squadron, Detachment 1, cadre member.

Desert Defender is also the place to learn from mistakes.

“When it comes to this (combat lifesaving) avenue of training, it’s people’s lives, so if you can’t practically get it here with someone just screaming at you, when a patient’s really there and his or her life is on the line and you can’t put these practical skills to use, that’s death. It’s critical that these guys learn here to do it right before they go out and they’re operational,” Burns said.

Although Desert Defender constantly receives high marks on its training curriculum, the team isn’t resting on its laurels.

“We’re always trying to make our training better. We’re always looking at the curriculum, trying to improve upon it and make it better,” Sprute said.

In addition to training Defenders, the GCRTC places equal importance on the equipping component of its mission with the recently established logistics detail.

LOGDET, which is expected to reach full operational capability in October, centralizes valuable, serviceable and, oftentimes, state-of-the-art equipment that can be quickly delivered in to the hands of Air Force Defenders who need it; in less than 96 hours in some cases.

Before LOGDET, security forces equipment was scattered at installations across the service with each unit having the responsibility of inventorying and shipping it to a middle location for consolidation before it was sent downrange to those who needed it.

“(Now) everything comes from Fort Bliss. It all just loads here,” said Master Sgt. Brent Helman, LOGDET superintendent.

“If you need heavy weapons, entry control point equipment, MRZRs (off-road utility vehicles), tactical automated security systems … that’s what we do,” Helman added. “We help you robust the base as far as infrastructure and defense support equipment to help secure a flight line or an airbase.”

“When you think about it, (LOGDET centralization at Fort Bliss) makes complete sense because the idea and the intent was – students come through, they receive their training, including on some of the equipment we’ve got at LOGDET, and potentially deploy downrange from here with their equipment,” Sprute said. 

With Biggs Army Air Field and more than 1.1 million acres of training terrain on and around Fort Bliss, chances are Air Force logistics support and training opportunities for security forces Defenders will continue to grow in West Texas.

“Similar to three or four years ago, when we didn’t previously envision some of the things we are in fact doing today, I think the same thing could be said right now,” Sprute said. “There are going to be things that we’re doing three to four years from now that we simply cannot envision today.”