By Michael Golembesky
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. — Silver Flag was meant to be a training exercise for 21st Space Wing service members until a rare snow storm caused them to put their skills to work during a real-world event.
Dobbins ARB, located about 16 miles northwest of Atlanta, is where many Airmen go to take part in Silver Flag, a Force Support Combat Training exercise focused on preparing service members for deployment overseas.
“Our job has to do with food, fitness, readiness and mortuary affairs,” said Tech. Sgt. Robert Newman, 21st Force Support Squadron fitness specialist at the base gym and participant in Silver Flag this January.
What started as a routine training event turned into a real-world response when the region received two inches of snow causing the base and all services to shut down, leaving many on base with no access to hot meals. No meals, that is, until the class of trainees stepped up to the challenge.
“In Georgia, two inches of snow is bad,” said Newman. “We arrived on Saturday. On Tuesday, the snow started to hit.”
As you could imagine, when the snow began to fall, the reality of the situation became clear. The base would need to close, dismissing personnel to make it home safely but also leaving transients in lodging.
“They released everyone on base at the same time, closing the base down. People staying in base lodging had no place to go; no one could come on base so there wasn’t any dining facility open or places to get food. People were stranded, many of them decided to stay on base because the roads were so bad,” said Newman.
After the snow had fallen and the storm passed, the trainees of the FSCT event encountered an eerie and strange sight. The still landscape of the base and surrounding area was one that is not often seen in Georgia.
“People weren’t used to driving in the snow; we had an overpass near our encampment on base where you could see the interstate, all of the vehicles were empty, a line of cars as far as the eye could see, it was like the Walking Dead but without the zombies,” said Newman.
But there would be no snow-day for the six members of Team Pete that day — they were needed to help provide hot meals to those still on base.
“We got a phone call early on Wednesday morning from the lodging manager saying, ‘look, we have over 200 people here, no place to go, no place to eat, what can you guys do?’ We woke up our instructors and they arranged for us to provide meals to these people,” said Newman. “Next thing you know, we got another phone call saying we have cops, security forces, fire department, there are a lot of other people stranded here as well.”
The Airmen had the training and equipment already setup for their field event scenario. Wasting no time the Airmen got right to work, sleeping in shifts with as little as four hours of rest between preparing meals.
“There were six of us from Peterson’s (dining facility) and gym; we also had two Reservists from Mobile, Alabama, helping us cook. We prepared the meals and transported them over to lodging, serving it right there in the lobby area; the emergency services personnel were able to make it to our dining tent for meals,” said Newman.
Even though the snow storm was a rare event, the chance to put training to use and help during a time of need makes for a good lesson learned. The nine Airmen prepared more than 800 hot meals over the course of two days for personnel throughout Dobbins ARB.
“It was a sad situation but it felt pretty good to show up and do something to help,” Newman said.