Why do we have to practice war when we’re already fighting a real one?
That’s not an uncommon question when it comes to Operational Readiness Inspections (ORIs). And it’s a fair question to ask given our steady state ops tempo which has us as busy as we’ve ever been both down range and homestation.
It’s true our Air Force has been engaged in combat operations to a greater or lesser degree for over 15 years, dating back to January 1991 when we were part of the mighty coalition air armada that helped eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm.
With all that “real world” combat experience it’s not unnatural for some to question why we must therefore practice for war. It’s a particularly relevant question for the combined 86th Airlift Wing and 435th Air Base Wing team as we undergo our Phase II ORI next week. There’s also a very relevant answer. It all goes back to the often quoted, and always true axiom, “train like you plan to fight.” We must be prepared to fight across the spectrum of warfare from low level insurgencies to full blown conventional and unconventional warfare, including the threat of weapons of mass destruction, and chemical and biological weapons.
The importance of training for all these manifestations of warfare cannot be overemphasized. Ask any combat veteran what he or she fell back on when the fighting got intense and they’ll tell you it was training. Simply put, proper training instills in our Airmen those tactics, techniques and procedures which become automatic during times of stress.
I often use one example of my own combat experiences to illustrate the importance of training. During my second Desert Storm mission my aircraft was engaged in rapid succession by three SA-6 Surface to Air Missiles. The morning after this nighttime mission I remember my left thumb was hurting. I realized this was from my pressing the chaff countermeasures dispenser button during the engagement. I didn’t really remember doing this, but I’d done it a thousand times on training missions and that training took over and made me automatically do the correct thing in combat. That’s the payoff for proper training−it makes us more combat effective.
Viewed from this perspective it makes perfect sense for us to do ORIs, and perhaps more importantly, all those preparatory OREs. That’s because it helps us practice and ingrains combat skills which will make us a more effective fighting force across the entire spectrum of warfare.
For instance, everyone who goes through the ORI next week will be called upon to demonstrate proficiency in proper donning of a gas mask. This is about much more than showing the IG we can do it. It’s preparing us to effectively survive and fight in a “worse case” contaminated environment. Thankfully, this contaminated environment is not something we’ve experienced on a large scale in either Operation IRAQI FREEDOM or ENDURING FREEDOM. However, I think all of us realize the enemies of freedom won’t hesitate to use these types of mass destruction weapons if they can acquire them. It’s a question of when, not if. Therefore we must be prepared for this threat, and it’s good training that will make us ready.
So as Team Ramstein showcases our war-fighting skills to the USAFE IG team next week, remember that this is about more than just securing a good grade. We are preparing ourselves to fight under any conditions, anywhere at anytime.