By Dave Smith
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — There were helicopter crashes, blizzards, gas line explosions, active shooters, communication outages, suspicious objects and individuals running through security gates. You are not watching the latest Hollywood disaster blockbuster movie from a famous director; rather it is the latest 21st Space Wing Condor Crest preparedness exercise at Peterson Air Force Base created by Capt. Erin Gaberlavage, exercise planner for the 21st Space Wing Inspector General’s office.
The exercise took place over five days Feb. 17-23, 2016. Various scenarios played out all across the wing’s scattered locations including Peterson AFB, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Cape Cod AFS and Thule Air Base. The intention of Condor Crest is to present real-world situations to test the limits of the responsiveness and preparedness of the wing’s units.
“Overall we did very well, but as always there are lessons to be learned,” said Melinda Clearwater, 21st IG director of inspections.
Lt. Col. Benjamin Wendike, 21st SW inspector general, said scenarios not only played out locally, but across the wing’s geographically separated units as well. The GSUs conducted their own exercises through teams tasked to run them, but all of the feedback comes back to the wing IG office for analysis.
Exercises like Condor Crest help validate the work that’s been done, Wendike said, and assures mission readiness. They also demonstrate compliance with established directives, promoting a culture of readiness.
Realism is a crucial part of setting up the exercises. Clearwater said putting together exercises that are valuable to the units is an important part of planning each one.
“The robustness of the exercises is created and approved to make (units) better and to be more realistic,” Wendike said.
When creating exercises like Condor Crest planning starts about 90 days in advance of the event’s start date. There are some requirements that dictate what exercises are included in Condor Crest, things like compliance considerations, higher headquarters interests, the intentions of the wing commander, the wing strategic plan and risk-based sampling strategies. There also are four major graded areas that need to be considered: managing resources, leading people, improving the unit and executing the mission.
Along with those considerations Clearwater said suggestions from the squadrons are considered when creating an exercise. There may be particular situations that need to be included for a particular unit that commanders want to work on. She said they try to work those in as much as they can. Inputs not can’t be integrated into the wing-level exercise as a cross-functional event are conducted internally at that particular unit.
Many people are not aware of the number of activities that go into each Condor Crest event. Clearwater said there were 72 different events to consider for the most recent iteration, and each of them could have several parts.
With that kind of detail planning for the next Condor Crest is already under way. Soon, quarterly events like Condor Crest will be aligned with higher-level operations like Global Thunder.
“We have the ability now to put the proper planning into it,” Clearwater said. So expect more robust and realistic exercises in the future to help foster readiness to execute global capabilities to defend the homeland and secure space for our nation and allies should a crisis of some type take place.