By BUCN Rosalind Bonenberger, NMCB 11 Detachment Bahrain
EO3 Erion Jones and EOCN Kodiak Mehl, NMCB 11, backfill craters created by notional “shrapnel” in order to establish a minimum operating strip for the Airfield Damage Repair exercise scenario, Feb. 18. Photo by BUCN Rosalind Bonenberger
Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11, Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, and Marine Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) conducted an Airfield Damage Repair (ADR) exercise aboard a U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) forward operating site (FOS), Feb.15-18.
The exercise was designed to smoothly integrate airfield damage repair engineering operations with Marine explosive ordinance disposal procedures. Damages to military airfields frequently involve explosive hazards that hinder repairs. ADR engineers and EOD technicians must work together to restore airfield operating capability as quickly as possible.
“Carrying out a realistic and comprehensive ADR scenario, from damage notification to complete repair, allowed our team to pre-identify problem areas within our plan,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Peterson Dela Cruz, NMCB 11 Detachment officer in charge (OIC) and an exchange officer with the battalion. “We are now able to further analyze these areas for probable outcomes and develop possible solutions in a controlled environment, so that in the event of an actual airfield repair, our team would be better prepared to make decisions on the fly.”
Prior to the exercise scenario, Seabees and Marines completed two days of classroom and practical application training. Classroom training facilitated an exchange of ADR techniques and procedures between the services, synchronizing Seabees and Marines into a cohesive team. Practical application training focused on specific repair methods available at the CENTCOM FOS. Every site with an ADR response capability has varying procedures based on manning and assets.
BUCN Nathan Strayer (left), NMCB 11, and Sgt. Michael Chapman, Marine Explosive Ordnance Disposal, set clearance of the runway during the initial damage assessment portion of the Airfield Damage Repair scenario, Feb. 18. Photo by BUCN Rosalind Bonenberger
After the classroom instruction, NMCB 11 Seabees conducted earthwork operations to construct a mock airfield, with a runway and taxiway, where actual crater damage and spall repairs could be conducted. Along with ADR Leading Petty Officer Builder 1st Class Tony Lent, Equipment Operator 3rd Class Erion Jones, lead equipment operator for the exercise, coordinated the construction of a realistic damage site that allowed the Seabees and Marines to effectively exercise their response capabilities.
“It’s important that Seabees and Marines have visual markers to assess and record, and be able to conduct actual repairs,” said Lent. “Theoretical knowledge will only take you so far, but actually utilizing the tools, materials, and skills required to be successful will make a world of difference when a real emergency arises.”
The scenario began with routine ordnance loading at the Combat Aircraft Loading Area (CALA), a common operation at the FOS. In the scenario, an equipment malfunction on an AV-8B Harrier aircraft caused a fuel leak along the starboard side external fuel tank, and was ignited by exhaust. The (notional) fire and subsequent fuel tank detonation caused significant damage to the airfield, while ordnance on the wings was still attached to the pylons of the aircraft remains.
Upon notification of an explosion at the CALA, Seabees and Marines quickly mustered at a central location with their equipment. ADR OIC Marine 1st Lt. Jeffrey Nguyen issued his ADR mission brief and the scenario played out. Marine EOD personnel used route and airfield clearance techniques to identify safe routes for ADR operations. Once EOD declared the site safe, the damage assessment team deployed to the mock airfield to obtain a detailed damage assessment. From the Command Post, plotters worked quickly to determine the minimum operating strip required to get the airfield to full operational capability. Repair teams then used crater and spall damage repair techniques to return the minimum operating strip area to usable condition. Nguyen provided the Emergency Operations Center with real-time updates throughout the exercise.
Seabees and Marines place bolted fiberglass matting during the Airfield Damage Repair exercise, Feb.18. Bolted fiberglass matting is one several ways to install Foreign Object Debris (FOD) cover to complete the crater damage repair process. Photo by BUCN Rosalind Bonenberger
Jones spoke about the importance of improving each unit’s understanding of the others’ capabilities.
“It was important for us [NMCB 11] and other supporting units to see exactly what each team can bring to the table, in the case of an actual need to respond to damages on the airfield,” Jones said. “We can actually see how things would unfold and how each unit would operate under our command’s tactical standards of operation, in order to be more aware of what one another needs or can expect.”
The time-honored working relationship between Seabees and Marines was prominently displayed throughout the exercise. ADR engineering efforts were led by Dela Cruz. With his Air Force civil engineering background and reach back support from the Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC), the exercise synchronized techniques, tactics and procedures from three services to refine the capabilities of the Task Group.