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Combat Training Element: Operational Capabilities

Dallas Lee, 27th Special Operations Support Squadron range support operations planning specialist, poses for a photo during an exercise at Melrose Air Force Range, N.M., Sep. 17, 2019. One of the duties the Combat Training Element performs is water survival training with evasion resistance and escape. CTE uses their boats to simulate a water landing with a parachute by dragging Airmen behind the boat on a cable. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gage Daniel)

Steve Allen, 27th Special Operations Support Squadron range support operations planning specialist, cleans his weapon before use during an exercise at Melrose Air Force Range, N.M., Sep. 17, 2019. A large role the men and women at the Combat Training Element perform is that of the opposing forces, where they act as an enemy and fire at Cannon’s Special Tactics Airmen with simulation rounds. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gage Daniel)

Dallas Lee, 27th Special Operations Support Squadron range support operations planning specialist, puts on a ballistic vest and other gear during an exercise at Melrose Air Force Range, N.M., Sep. 17, 2019. Before running an exercise, the Combat Training Element personnel gear up to protect themselves from the hail of simulation rounds they receive from Cannon’s Special Tactics Airmen while acting as an enemy force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gage Daniel)

Jon Mountjoy, 27th Special Operations Support Squadron range support operations planning specialist, simulates an engagement with a foreign emissary during an exercise at Melrose Air Force Range, N.M., Sep. 17, 2019. Exercises entail more than just shooting at one another, they include other aspects of combat such as negotiations as well that provide another level and dimension that can be seen in real-world situations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gage Daniel)

Brian Grady, 27th Special Operations Support Squadron range support operations planning specialist, walks to his hiding position during an exercise at Melrose Air Force Range, N.M., Sep. 17, 2019. The exercises the Combat Training Element participate in may not always last long, but usually take weeks of planning in advance that covers everything from safety precautions to equipment inventory. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gage Daniel)

Special Tactics Airmen, 26th Special Tactics Squadron range support operations planning specialist, clear and enter a shipping container after receiving enemy fire during an exercise at Melrose Air Force Range, N.M., Sep. 17, 2019. MAFR houses several training compounds used for exercises and with this, and the amount of shipping containers, the Special Tactics Airmen and Combat Training Element are able to constantly switch up routes and destinations to keep things forever dynamic. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gage Daniel)

Brian Grady and Ernest Revell, 27th Special Operations Support Squadron range support operations planning specialist, fire at combat Airmen with simulation rounds during an exercise at Melrose Air Force Range, N.M., Sep. 17, 2019. The Combat Training Element plays a key role in the training of Special Tactics Airmen. They use action, reaction, and a variety of other factors to keep the Airmen on their feet and thinking steps ahead for the entire scenario. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gage Daniel)

Special Tactics Airmen from the 26th Special Tactics Squadron discuss their plan during an exercise at Melrose Air Force Range, N.M., Sep. 17, 2019. STS Airmen go through many exercises before and after seeing combat to continue to learn new techniques and new ways to adapt to changing situations and enemy tactics. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gage Daniel)

Personnel from the 27th Special Operations Support Squadron finish gearing up before an exercise at Melrose Air Force Range, N.M., Sep. 17, 2019. The Combat Training Element provides realistic training to more than just Cannon’s Special Tactics Airmen. They do this for foreign special operations forces as well, usually training them with MQ-9 Reapers and AC-130 Whiskey Gunships in the air to help them learn to utilize these platforms in combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gage Daniel)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Editor's Note: (This is the second part of a series documenting Cannon’s elite Combat Training Element team who challenge and push our Airmen to adapt and overcome with their cutting edge prototype technology and weaponry)

By now, if you read the first installment, you should know what the Combat Training Element men and women can create, but you might not know what they can do. From an outside perspective, you’d think they generally play the bad guys for our good-guy teams, and though you wouldn’t be wrong, you’d be far from the mark.

The CTE folks do a lot more than meets the eye. To keep it brief, their role is to provide our tactical Airmen with the most realistic training possible, using realistic simulations, of course. Whether it be them playing the role of the opposing forces using adversarial tactics, dragging aircrew through a lake on the back of a boat to simulate a water landing with a parachute, or even playing the good guys, they do it all.

However, you must keep in mind that they are not training these Airmen, they are a tool used in their training to help them practice in a live environment to meet their commander’s standards, intent and expectations. Though you may not need a hammer to pound a nail, it’s more capable than the next piece of metal. CTE, with their collective knowledge, experience and prior service, is here to make the job done more efficient and sturdy, like the hammer does.

A major role CTE fulfills, as the hammer, is that of the opposing forces. They plan, they gear up, and they get mobile. By the end of an operation they can be almost unrecognizable. They’re dirty. Their skin and uniforms, now a combination of sweat, dirt and paint from simulation rounds, resemble that of a freestyle art canvas more than that of an enemy force.

Let me not forget to add that they’re not only doing this for our Airmen, but for special operations forces of other nations. We are one of the only nations with MQ-9 Reaper and the only with AC-130 Whiskey Gunship capabilities. CTE trains them to know how to use and be comfortable utilizing these aircraft in real-life combat situations.

But executing exercises of this magnitude are not done on the fly, it takes weeks of planning for only a few hours of “play time.”

It all begins with preplanning between CTE and the squadron who’s running the operation. From there they move into figuring out what equipment they’ll need, risk assessment, area of effect and overall concept of operations. Once all of this, and most certainly more, is completed, they’re able to move on to gearing up.

Though missions may follow the same concept from time to time, such as Rubik's cube, no two scenarios will be exactly alike. The ground team switching out, a different plane doing reconnaissance, a new location being selected, or a different set of decisions being made all make a difference in how each and every scenario will play out. And those with CTE are constantly making adjustments in real-time with each and every scenario, decision made, and position called out.

The CTE’s ability to think on the fly added on to their collective knowledge allows them to keep things forever dynamic. They’re able to provide a forever changing environment that shapes how the Airmen think, act and react, while they themselves are doing the same, which only adds to the dynamics of the situation.

Another capability that showcases how well-rounded CTE is, is the augmentation they provide to the Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape community.


They’re able to double as the aggressor, playing targets in the water on boats for gunships, while simultaneously playing the recovery force where they’re certified in providing care to those being airlifted from the water if something were to go wrong during the exercise. Talk about some talented individuals. They also assist in nabbing those going through land navigation before handing them back over to SERE for the rest of their training.

There really is no limit to what they have done, can do, and will do. I could go on and on, like π, about every little detail for every operation or duty they hold, but words alone can’t describe the tremendous expertise they have or the love they have for what they do. It’s shown in the men and women who go through training with CTE, and are out their using what they’ve learned to fight for our country.

Though CTE receives funding, it’s not the money that keeps them going, it’s their raw passion for what they do that keeps the innovation rolling and their performance at a level that none can match. They’re making a difference in our United States Air Force, and they know it.