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Into the thick of it

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Laura Tickle
  • 145th Airlift Wing

Fifteen, twelve-hour days of sweat, heat, mud, in the elements; the recent experience for eleven North Carolina Air National Guard members during an Integrated Defense Leadership Course held at Camp James A. Garfield, Joint Military Training Center, Ohio from July 16 to August 1, 2023.

Established in early 2021, the Integrated Defense Leadership Course was initially set-up as a two-week endeavor for Air Force Reservists to use their annual training time to initiate a condensed and rigorous field experience, ensuring a tactical and skilled force. July of 2023 saw a unique twist when, for the first time in the history of the course, an Air National Guard unit, the 145th Security Forces Squadron, completed the training. Like Air Reservists, Air Guardsmen are also subject to two-week annual training requirements.

"Our superintendent really facilitated getting us there," states U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Dennis Purifoy, 145th Security Forces Squadron flight chief. "It was initially just for the reserves, and this was the first year they opened it up for the guard and active duty."

The two-week course consists of outdoor orienteering, land navigation, static defense, tactical combat casualty care and more.

"It really digs into those Security Forces combat skills that we just don't get on a day to day basis," affirms Purifoy. "In land navigation we get used to using GPS in the modern world. The concept [for this course] is: 'what is the first thing that happens when you go to war with someone that has the same capabilities as you?' They take away your capabilities via EMP [electromagnetic pulse] or satellite; so we go back to the basics of learning how to read in the field, like drawing your routes."

The training applied in the course allows for members to think on their feet and get a sense of mission accomplishment through small, integrated teams.

"It was a lot of control on our end that we wouldn't ordinarily get in a training environment," expresses Staff Sgt. Adam Congdon, 145th Security Forces Squadron. "For me the biggest thing was getting the opportunity to see behind the scenes of what would go into these sort of things and then carry out the tasks we set up."

Congdon is a recent addition to the North Carolina Air National Guard and this course helped him integrate better with his counterparts; building trust and camaraderie.

"For me, especially being a little bit newer in the unit, I got to spend a bit more time with our guys and got to know a lot of them and work together in a way we wouldn't normally be able," Congdon describes. "Even out here [Charlotte, N.C.] if we're working the gate or out on patrol, that's not quite the same as being faced with a challenge and figuring out how to overcome that. So I really enjoyed just getting to work with some of my peers and getting to know them."

Each unit, along with the course instructors, recognize an outstanding member that exemplifies the total force qualities required of Airmen. The 145th Security Forces Squadron recognizes Congdon for his abilities and superior performance.

"They recognize someone from each unit that was there...and it was essentially based on conversations, interactions, and their observations on who was stepping up to the plate, exemplifying leadership and retaining the knowledge they were sharing with us," explains Congdon.

This course brings challenges and rewards for attendees given the condensed material chartered in a short span of time.

"Every day really builds upon the last one; if you didn't learn on day one you'll have a hard time on day two, day three, day four, etc.," affirms Purifoy. " We're in this thick brush, hiking 2 kilometers, and it really slows your movements down when you're pushing through terrain like that, including waist-deep waters and mud."

"We had eleven of us [North Carolina Air National Guardsmen] and twenty-six total for the course," specifies Congdon, "Generally their courses are about 120 people but about 100 backed out for this class last minute so we ended up being a much smaller class and I think it worked out better for us with a great instructor to student ratio."

As the courses continue to roll-out each year, there is wisdom garnered and shared from previous course-completers.

"Bring everything they tell you to bring," expresses Congdon. "Everything we were being trained on in this course was something we've already been trained on previously in basic or tech school, give yourself a refresher before going."

"We'd love for the course to be longer, but we understand it's built for the AT [Annual Training] mindset," voices Purifoy, "I highly encourage any SFS [Security Forces Squadrons] worldwide to go to this course; it's probably one of the best courses I've been to!"