Full-Scale Readiness Exercise Tests Muscle Memory

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Gage Daniel
  • 94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Underneath the bold lettering of the word "exercise" in a standard dictionary, you’ll find the following definition: “an activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness.”

What image typically comes to mind when you think of exercising?

I tend to imagine someone closing the trunk of their vehicle freshly filled with boots, trail mix, water, a backpack, and maybe a dog for good measure, off to hike the newest trail they found on their favorite outdoor app. Maybe you envision a couple of people flexing at the gym, hogging the mirror, hyping one another up, completely oblivious to the other person standing there trying to watch themselves carefully to ensure proper form while performing lateral shoulder raises.

We generally view exercise as a physical activity taken on by one or maybe a few folks at a time, but for others exercise is a great escape from the world around them. We imagine something that is a break from everyday mundane tasks and an opportunity for our brains to reset.

But do you ever envision anything else?

Do you ever imagine a mass of military members receiving Mission-Oriented Protective Posture, or MOPP, gear, filing slowly through pre-deployment function lines, eating Meals Ready-To Eat and camping in tents out in a field for days on end?

These are exactly the type of things you will see if you observe a military readiness exercise. Not unlike the outdoor excursion or gym session alluded to earlier, military exercises are also a break from the everyday and an opportunity to reset our brains and focus on real-world applicability of skills and training that are practiced daily.

Military exercises enable service members to come together to support a shared mission. Here at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga., our mission is rapid global mobility and all of the support functions that enable it.

An important thing to remember about exercising is “muscle-memory.” If you don’t work out and grow, your muscle won’t build any memory, but overtime if you’re pushing your boundaries little by little, your brain begins to form new neural pathways that instruct your muscles and allow them to grow. If you’re not exercising, your body will lose that muscle memory. This is similar to those who learn a second language; by going long periods of time without speaking the language, you will forget or lose your skills.

The Reserve Command was formally established in 1948, following World War II, as a program that would allow military members to maintain the military readiness, skills and knowledge they had accrued during the war, enabling them to remain ready should another war occur. In other words, the military wanted to retain that its muscle-memory.

When Airmen are preparing for or in the midst of an exercise, they should view it as the strength and cardiovascular training that it is. Even for the most fit person, not every exercise is going to feel great, but the difference between those who reach their goals and get stronger and those who don’t is that those who reach their goals still show up and still put in effort. They may leave feeling like they weren’t able to reach their max limit per usual, but they recognize it and still strive forth, glad they showed up despite a lack of energy or drive. They maintain a mental state of general excitement when it comes to exercise in the future and this is a sentiment we need to share as Airmen, regardless of rank or duty.

During the exercise at Dobbins this month, I saw all aspects of human emotion. Some people had wide, teeth-lined smiles, others donned faces of determination and a few had looks of confusion, worry or even distaste as they wondered why on earth they had to be a part of the experience. The feelings displayed by our Airmen are not dissimilar to those of anyone pursuing any type of goal. Not every day is going to be full of joy and excitement; to hone skills we need to commit time and practice in order to achieve tangible results.

During their warm-up, Airmen from the 94th Logistics Readiness Squadron planned all logistical elements of distributing gear to Airmen and processing them through the PDF line to deploy. During the actual exercise, the 94th LRS implemented their knowledge to ensure hundreds of Airmen were prepared with everything they needed to deploy on time. In this unit, I saw individuals of a team working hard together, all doing his or her part to keep the machine running. Because of continuous practice throughout their careers, the Airmen were prepared and knew exactly what roles they were responsible for. No Airman was left unattended and every member received the appropriate gear as designated – all because the 94th Airlift Wing was prepared.

After receiving mobility gear and processing through the PDF line, exercise deployers were escorted to a holding room where a team of Airmen from various agencies provided briefings for the simulated deployment scenario. Representatives from intelligence, safety, emergency management, inspector general, medical, chaplain corps and more all briefed and prepared Airmen to know where they were going and how to handle myriad situations that were likely to arise. The experience, confidence and transparency exuded by the presenters was critically important in kicking the exercise off on the right foot.

Once Airmen arrived at the simulated deployed area on base, they in-processed and became acquainted with the lay of the land. During the exercise, Airmen practiced donning their MOPP gear in various protection levels and defending against munitions and chemical attacks. Cyber specialists practiced keeping communications networks clear and defending against cyber attacks. Security Forces defenders protected the safety of people, property and weapons from hostile forces. Medical technicians ensured Airmen remained healthy, while aeromedical evacuation teams and air crews prepared to provide airlift to those needing evacuation to expanded medical care. Maintainers worked 24/7 to ensure aircraft were fully mission capable at all times. Every Airman knew their role and implemented it when needed. And every Airman practiced alongside another to learn new roles and responsibilities, enabling themselves to fill multiple roles during contingency situations – a key component of developing Multi-Capable Airmen.

In fitness, we don’t always have the energy to try for another repetition or the strength to achieve a new personal record every day. But regardless of daily measurable successes, continuous preparation is a mental push to advance past what you’re capable of today and to carry your success to the next day.

In much the same way, it is important for Airmen to constantly exercise career knowledge and skills to ensure proficiency as well as growth. Sometimes, we take losses and we have to adjust our tactics, techniques and procedures in order to do better. Other times, we are successful right from the get-go. Regardless of the outcome, we continue to practice so that when the time comes we are ready and prepared to meet whatever challenges may arise.

During drill weekends, whether we are knee-deep in a readiness exercise and striving to achieve a new personal (or Wing) record, or whether it’s another typical “first weekend of the month” training period, we are exercising. These various types of exercise are all key to the overall success of the our Reserve forces’ role in the defense of our country. Exercise helps enable the sense of pride we have in our shared camaraderie and mission to provide rapid global mobility, base sustainment and agile combat support here at Dobbins. We remain “ready to fight, determined to win – now!”