From Theory to Battlefield: 944th FW Tactical Training Redefines Air Force Combat Readiness

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Tyler J. Bolken
  • 944th Fighter Wing

As the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force unveil comprehensive changes to maintain superiority in the era of Great Power Competition, the 944th Fighter Wing’s Aeromedical Staging Squadron's training on May 8, 2024, at Luke Air Force Base, highlights the practical implementation of these new directives.

The Air Force's announcement, earlier this year, outlined a focus on developing people, generating readiness, and projecting power, with a notable shift toward hands-on, realistic training environments. This direction is vividly embodied in the 944th ASTS's Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) training their Reserve Citizen Airmen conducted during their 2-week annual tour.

Maj. Breck Smith, 944th ASTS TCCC officer in charge, emphasized the shift from traditional computer-based training to scenarios that replicate real battlefield conditions.

"Our training now focuses on care under fire, handling medical emergencies where it's not just about applying a tourniquet but doing so under direct threat," explained Smith, highlighting the increased stress levels that simulate actual combat, preparing Reserve Citizen Airmen for real-world challenges.

The training scenarios had the Reserve Citizen Airmen armed with paintball guns while they sought to care for casualties with hemorrhaging wounds in a battlefield environment with enemy aggressors attacking them.

“They're tuning their medical skills, but also gaining a broad spectrum of skills of how to operate medicine in a tactical environment and in an austere environment,” explained Smith, who is a native of Phoenix, Ariz., and works as an orthopedic nurse on the civilian side.

The training also addressed another critical aspect of the Air Force’s strategic changes of enhancing unit cohesion and readiness, which are main reasons for the 944th ASTS conducting this training.

Senior Master Sgt. Justin Sanderson, a 944th ASTS medic and the noncommissioned-officer-in-charge for this training, discussed the benefits of extended training periods, which are particularly valuable for Reserve Citizen Airmen.

"Instead of cramming everything into a weekend, we have continuous hours to focus deeply on complex scenarios, which is crucial for effective team performance when deployed," said Sanderson, who is a native of San Tan Valley, Ariz., and works as a physical therapist on the civilian side.

Senior Airman Damaris Molina, a 944th ASTS pharmacy technician, shared her perspective on the camaraderie and team-building that occurred during these intense training sessions.

"This is my second hands-on training, and it's vastly different from any classroom setting,” said Molina, who is a native of Yuma, Ariz, and works as an administrator at a medical facility as a civilian. “You’re learning in real-time, under stress, which really binds us together as a unit.”

This training conducted by the 944th ASTS is a direct response to the Air Force's strategic initiative to generate readiness and develop mission-ready Airmen. It exemplifies the shift toward each unit being prepared to operate independently and effectively in hostile environments.

“This approach is designed to ensure that Airmen are not only skilled but are also adaptable and resilient in the face of modern warfare challenges,” said Smith.

As the Air Force continues to adapt to the demands of Great Power Competition, the experiences from the 944th ASTS's recent training provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of these new strategies. The integration of advanced simulation technologies and the focus on operational readiness are set to redefine how the Air Force prepares its personnel for future challenges.

With continued support from leadership and ongoing refinements to training methodologies, the Air Force aims to stay ahead in a rapidly evolving global security landscape, ensuring that its Airmen are not only ready but are best positioned to defend national interests.

“Putting physical effort behind the actual skill changes everything,” said Sanderson. “You're exhausted, you're sweating, maybe you're hungry, you're thirsty, but you're still getting shot at, so putting the skills behind that threat is a huge benefit to really committing it to memory.”