403rd Wing Exercise: Operation Southern Comfort

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Shelton Sherrill
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

Deployment exercises are not something reservists look forward to in their busy lives. It becomes one more thing added to a list of tasks required to stay deployment-ready. Not to mention having to leave your normal living conditions for something a little more austere. 

During Operation Southern Comfort held Jan 13-16, 2020, Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 403rd Wing shared living quarters, worked long hours wearing chemical protection gear and consumed brown bagged meals ready to eat called MRE’s, where you never know what you will get.

For Col. Jeff Van Dootingh, 403rd Wing commander, the purpose of the exercise was to evaluate the overall readiness of the 403rd Wing and to make sure Airmen are mission ready and fully capable to operate, whether in a normal deployed environment or in a deployed Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) environment.

The exercise was also a test to determine the 403rd Wing’s ability to plan, organize and execute its self-inspections.   

“I expect we’ll find some areas that need improvement,” Van Dootingh said. “Because if we don’t have any failures, then we didn’t push ourselves hard enough.”

Van Dootingh set three main objectives to measure the wing’s success. The first objective was to gain more knowledge when it comes to achieving the mission.

Reservists usually work and train within their own unit when they attend drill each month. However, during Operation Southern Comfort more than 300 service members from multiple squadrons came together to do their job. They deployed across two locations; The Mississippi National Guard Combat Readiness Training Center, Gulfport and Camp Shelby, Hattiesburg, Miss.  

Staff Sgt. Micah Scott, 403rd Aeromedical Staging Squadron medical technician, said that by seeing how everything flows together plays a big role in understanding the mission.

“I got to see how security forces do things, how our mission impacts their mission, and how their mission impacts (Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron’s) mission,” said Scott. “Being able to come out, get some real life experience and being able to see what it would be like down range helps to make you more comfortable in the importance of your role within the mission.”

Other factors play a part in making the mission successful, and while some may be human factors, another factor that had to be considered was the weather.

“The weather added an element of change that had to be overcome,” said Maj. Jonathan Brady, 403rd Wing Inspector General Inspector. “While we had a plan to move our service members, these unexpected changes proved that the wing was up to the task of adapting and overcoming obstacles to keep our exercise on target.”

The second objective was for members to understand the need to be prepared and ready to operate in different and challenging environments.

Participants in the exercise were put in different situations to see how they responded to opposing force’s threats and attacks. All while wearing mission-oriented protective posture (MOPP) gear, which is primarily worn for chemical warfare protection.

“It’s harder to breath… it’s harder to move,” said Master Sgt. Richard Potter, 403rd Security Forces Squadron actions officer. “It’s important for our Airmen to learn how to do their job while in different MOPP levels and understand that it changes the dynamics of what you do.”

During the four-day exercise Airmen were put to the test as if they were going to actually deploy. They went through a process line, traveled to different locations and lived in conditions similar to a deployed environment.  Operating in this setting paved the way for the wing to reach the commander’s objectives.

“When we come up here and do things like this, sleeping in lodging, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner together, it just enhances mission cohesion and brings our Airmen closer together,” said Potter.

The final objective was maintaining safety throughout the exercise, which Van Dootingh said was also a success.

“I think we were successful reaching our three objectives for the exercise,” said Van Dootingh.  “We ended the week more knowledgeable when it comes to achieving the mission, we understand America is facing a different conflict with a different set of challenges than past years, and everyone remained safe.”

Exercises can easily be seen as another mundane task on a long list of tasks. But for members of the 403rd Wing, they stepped up, took interest in the exercise and gained more knowledge in how each section has an important role for a successful deployment.

“The most pleasing part to me is that everyone had great attitudes and a great work ethic,” said Van Dootingh. “Because I can’t train you to do those things. If you don’t have a good attitude and a great work ethic, you won’t get better no matter how much training you do.”