By Staff Sgt. Robert Cloys
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — I wake up at 4 a.m. The coffee is already brewing in the kitchen. Like any other morning the scene in my kitchen is the same. This morning, however, I will not be putting on my Airman Battle Uniform, I’ll be putting on a pair of jeans, a black t-shirt and a baseball cap and attempting to ambush, confuse and “kill” those, who in the past, I have fought beside.
Shortly I will go to a remote location in the mountains and engage any U.S. military member I come across. If captured, I will beg for my life because, in the end, family comes first. My wife, also joining in the fight, will do the same.
At roughly 6 a.m. we reach camp, are issued a radio, some rations and a call sign. My wife and I will be joining two others at a post named X-ray. We’re guarding a safehouse that is apparently of some interest to U.S. service members. Our morning briefing has us on high-alert for probable incoming attacks.
The truth of the matter is I’m not part of activist group. I’m a member of the opposition forces team supporting the Expeditionary, Survival and Evasion Training course, formerly known as Global Engagement. It is a 10-day mandatory graduation program for rising U.S. Air Force Academy sophomores.
The first seven days of the course for Air Force cadets are academics and practical learning. The eighth day of training is a culmination exercise where cadets put to the test the skills they have learned and actually conduct a operations order brief, patrol, convoy and military operations in urban terrain. The exercise day requires a significant amount of OPFOR to add realism and create a valuable learning experience for the cadets. The summer program runs from the first of June to the first week of August every year.
On the hike to our area of responsibility we stop and pick up weapons, two M-16s and an M-240B. We each take 180 rounds of 5.56 ammo and throw it in our backpack. I quickly lay claim to the “Bravo,” the 22.6 pound, belt fed, Rambo-esque medium machine gun that beckoned me from the moment I saw it.
The compound we would defend for the remainder of the day was a labyrinth of modular units and cargo containers lining a road that passed through our area. I knew that I wouldn’t be very mobile with the weapon I had chosen and began making my way to the rooftop of one of the center buildings. The three others defending the same area began scanning the buildings on the ground for places to take cover and surprise the convoy that is a few minutes out according to the chatter on our radio. My crates of ammo on the roof next to me aren’t live rounds; they’re blanks, but the adrenaline that will soon rush through my veins as 7.62 mm shells fly out of my gun at 200-600 rounds per minute is real.
A foreign language echoes off of the buildings as it plays through the loud speakers positioned around the compound. The sound of children playing also fills the area. The ominous tone fits the scenario perfectly as I signal down to the rest of the team that the convoy is approaching our gate. I take cover behind the small wall on the roof and wait for the sounds of my teammates’ M-16s on the ground to let me know our ambush has begun. Within seconds, the three round burst assault from the ground begins as I quickly put the M-240B in place and proceed to shoot from the rooftop. The thunder of the 7.36 mm rounds seemed to dwarf even the sounds of an entire truck full of cadets firing back in panicked response.
“The goal of the program is to develop a warrior ethos in cadets and help build them into leaders of character while exposing them to leadership opportunities during mounted patrols, dismounted patrols and military operations in urban terrain,” said Master Sgt. Brady McCoy, Superintendent, Cadet Wing Training Division. “The course allows the cadets to develop small team leadership skills and plan/execute combat missions with peers.”
Without OPFOR a vital part of training for the cadets would be missing.
“I think that it brings the training together because it adds some realness to it,” said Cadet Third Class Blaize Dunn, an additional OPFOR member at post X-ray. “If the cadets are coming down an alley and I pop around a corner and start shooting, it sounds like real rounds are coming at them. It makes them freak out and have to rely back on the training that they’ve been taught here in the program.”
Dunn is no stranger to being an OPFOR member, while at the Academy he has participated in events like this in the past.
“I think that it’s definitely valuable and it shows the applications of what they’ve learned throughout the course,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Amy Cloys, NCO in charge, Milstar IT Systems, 4th Space Operations Squadron, who spent two and a half years with the 51st Combat Communications Squadron at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., has been on the receiving side of an OPFOR attack many times.
“Without OPFOR it is difficult for training received in a classroom to be valuable,” she said. “When practicing scenarios that may occur in real-life combat situations it is extremely important that the training environment mimic a deployed environment as close as it possibly can.”
Now, by volunteering as an OPFOR member, Cloys gets to see this type of training from a different perspective.
Several hours and several hundred rounds of ammunition later the final foot patrol sweeps through our compound, their organization and training besting OPFOR one last time. Sweating, exhausted and smelling of gun powder, our team of opposition forces leaves our post and our role as the enemy behind. Even on two different teams we have all come together to achieve the similar goal of putting cadets to the test and allowing them to utilize and incorporate the training they received during their ESEP-CS course.
Schriever generally sends volunteers each year to support the Cadet Wing Training Division’s need for OPFOR members. Be on the lookout for volunteer opportunities near the beginning of June 2013.