MINOT AIR FORCE BASE Typically the U.S. Army is known for being the "boots-on-ground" force involved in the frontlines of war zones. However, in reality there are many deployed airmen who find themselves at the forefront of danger.
Air Force vehicle operators often work closely with the U.S. Army in wartime operations and at times lead the pack as convoy commanders.
The vehicle operators with Minot Air Force Base's 5th Logistics Readiness Squadron underwent an elaborate convoy training program designed to teach the airmen critical defensive and safety procedures during potential threats when running convoy operations Jan. 25-26.
The operators first spent time in a classroom environment, learning about different vehicle equipment and topics. They also discussed aspects of convoy operations to include medevac procedures, weapons handling, convoy route planning, defensive firing positions, vehicle decontamination procedures and more.
It was hands-on work following the briefings as they headed out to test their knowledge in multiple exercise operations.
In coordination with the 5th Security Forces Squadron, the 5th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordinance Disposal Flight and other agencies, airmen exercised scenarios that resembled realistic and dangerous environments.
"The realism is very important because the airmen need to understand the reality of what they could be tasked to do as far as convoy operation procedures go," said Staff Sgt. Kevin Vigil, 5th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operator dispatcher and training instructor.
According to Vigil, vehicle operators undergo constant deployments, so the trainers try to make the scenarios and exercises as authentic as possible.
"We need the airmen to see how things need to be done with a sense of urgency when unexpected situations arise," said Vigil.
He added it was important for them to see how real operations are conducted and familiarize them with what they may undergo in the future.
Tech. Sgt. Daniel Upshaw, 5th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operations supervisor, has deployed numerous times to the Middle East and has acted as convoy commander during convoy operations with the U.S. Army.
Convoy commanders are 100 percent responsible for how convoys operate. Part of a convoy commander's duties include ensuring everybody has the proper equipment before departing, ensuring all preventive maintenance on vehicles are complete and all the cargo is loaded properly. Ultimately, they are responsible for any and all actions the convoy takes.
"If you become a convoy commander, everybody's life is in your hands," said Upshaw. "The fear that you can be hit at any time when you are out on the road can be difficult to deal with."
The 11-year vehicle operator veteran said he has seen it all during frontline convoy duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Upshaw believes this type of training can benefit the younger airmen.
Upshaw has a lot of respect for the job because he knows how mentally and physically taxing certain operations can have on people. As an experienced vehicle operator, Upshaw hopes to share his experience with the younger airmen who will lead the future operations of the Air Force.