114th Fighter Wing performs deployment readiness exercise in Sioux Falls

By  | 

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) - The 114th Fighter Wing South Dakota Air National Guard is spending the weekend doing an annual training exercise to prepare for the possibility of deployment.

If you've heard a lot of F-16s flying overhead this weekend, there's no need to be alarmed. Each year, the 114th Fighter Wing spends an entire week going through every step that would need to happen in order for them to deploy.

Everything from the initial call for deployment to the packing of gear and personal effects is simulated throughout the weekend. But that's not all -- the guardsmen and women go through dozens of other training exercises, including decontamination, for chemical warfare. They even simulate how they'd perform a mission in their full chemical warfare gear.

The 114th Fighter Wing has about 1,000 guardsmen, but they don't all do the same thing at the same time throughout the week. This annual exercise is unique because in the scenario -- everyone's got the same mission to accomplish in order to actually ship out.

"Everybody has their own specific job that they do out here," said 1st Lt. Josh Nelson. "During these annual exercises we piece all those specific jobs in a row and we form it out into one exercise operation."

"This is just the culmination of all that training," said Gen. Joel Degroot. 'It's a proving point -- it's a pressed-to-test -- to see if we can do what we're really tasked to do."

The training exercise tests a little bit of everything.

"It tests our fire response, it tests our medical response, it tests our ability to generate sorties, to put the bomb on target, it also helps us to evaluate whether our personnel are trained to take care of each other," said Gen. Degroot.

And there are other tasks that must be completed before guardsmen can be deployed.

"We make sure that they have their shots, that their families have been taken care of, that the human resources part of it is taken care of," said 1st Lt. Nelson.

But that's not all. Once a year, the guardsmen also put on some gear they don't always have on.

"Today we kicked off with the culmination of our training for our chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive environment," said Senior Master Sgt. Alan Tuschen. "It's something we fortunately, don't do on a regular basis."

That preparation is a little more complicated. The guardsmen wear the full gear they'd need in a potentially contaminated environment -- including bulky outerwear, multiple layers, gloves, a gas mask and special boots.

"It makes your job a lot harder, so it gives them the understanding and the confidence that they can still do their job while in the chem gear so they can still do their mission," Master Sgt. Tuschen said.

Even though the potential of war is on the minds of many, the training exercise this weekend, doesn't change.

"That stuff, it really doesn't affect our training because we need be prepared for anything," said Master Sgt. Tuschen. "Like the Guard always have been, we're always ready, we're always there."

"It's our reality. It doesn't frighten us, that's why we're here," said Gen. Degroot. "It's something that these people train for. And we train and there's nothing to fear."

The Air Guard's training exercises aren't actually happening over Sioux Falls this weekend, so while you may hear them traveling, the only other additional noise you should hear are take off, landing and other training exercises happening on the base near the Sioux Falls Regional Airport.

This weekend's training exercise will wrap up Sunday afternoon.