Lessons learned

  • Published
  • By Major Doric Dagnoli
  • 341st Space Wing Command Post
Exercise, Exercise, Exercise. What comes to mind when you hear those words? Do you wonder how your busy schedule is going to be complicated by responding to make-believe emergency events, diversions from normal operations and the dreaded lockdown from FPCON Delta? Maybe you sigh, realizing you will be drawn away from the real mission, or that performance report you are staffing will get slowed because everyone is out playing war games. Or perhaps you are resigned to the fact that exercises are a way of life in the military and you know that you'll somehow make it through yet another round of battle staff operations and exercise bomb threats. To be honest, I've had those feelings before. That is, until I observed, first hand, the wing's response to the tragic Snowbirds accident May 18. 

When the call came in that Friday afternoon, the wing's initial responders were already on scene, fighting the fire and establishing a cordon around the crash. Within minutes, the battle staff and emergency operations center were formed, poised to accomplish the myriad of tasks that would continue into the night. From reporting the incident to higher headquarters, disseminating information to the media and supporting on-scene personnel, to comforting our Canadian brothers-in-arms in their time of need, I was amazed at how smoothly the wing worked as a team to ensure all bases were covered. The transition from initial response to recovery operations was as efficient as any I had seen in any of our previous exercises. I wondered quietly how procedures and actions which were, at times, strained during exercises, worked so well when the real thing happened. 

Some would argue the artificiality of our exercises make them less than ideal for preparing our forces to respond to incidents. Even though exercises occur at the time and place of our choosing, working through the exercise play versus real-world operations, is quite constraining at times. What I've learned is that although somewhat hampered because of the high ops tempo of this wing, recent exercises have duly prepared us to respond to almost any contingency event. Discussions generated during exercises and the lessoned learned as a result of our practice scenarios transcend across the myriad of contingencies we could face in the future. On May 18, there were no restraints placed on the task at hand. The wing responded to the accident, while seamlessly executing the wing's operational mission. 

One thing is certain. This wing will continue to exercise its resources and personnel, and quite frankly, I welcome the next "opportunity to excel" in front of the exercise evaluation team. I now know better that responding to that artificial event could mean the difference between life and death in a given scenario. Whether it's a test of our security forces in protecting our assets, the daily training of our missile crews for our wartime mission, or an emergency management exercise for the entire wing, it is our responsibility to practice for the unimaginable event. Take note of lessons learned during exercises as well as from your response to the recent tragedy, use these to hone your war fighting skills even further, so that the next time you are called to respond, regardless of the nature or complexity of the event, you perform as well as you did that fateful day last month.