DAGRE tryouts test candidates
By Staff Sgt. Alexx Mercer, 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 01, 2015
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Within the United States Air Force security forces career field, exists a team of highly-trained Air Commandos tasked with performing a wide-range of Special Operations Forces missions. The Deployed Aircraft Ground Response Element, also known as DAGRE, helps provide enhanced security for Air Force Special Operations Command and SOF aircraft traversing airfields where security is limited or inadequate.
Being awarded the title of “DAGRE team member” and earning a DAGRE number comes with a certain amount of pride and prestige according to Cannon’s lucky few who have earned them. As the few would attest, it is no small feat to stand among these elite.
After a recent local nomination process, eight of Cannon’s security forces members were selected to endure a three-day crash course in an attempt to earn endorsement for one of the actual DAGRE courses slated later this year.
Across the Air Force, only four bases maintain DAGRE teams for mission operations. Training is offered twice per year and class sizes are limited, ultimately meaning that only the best of the best are selected for consideration to become DAGRE members.
“The DAGRE pipeline consists of seven courses taught by the 371st Special Operations Combat Training Squadron at Hurlburt Field in Florida,” stated a DAGRE member. “What we are doing here is putting our potential candidates through a highly-condensed version of that training for several reasons.”
“First, we want to ensure they are physically and mentally prepared for what is to come,” the DAGRE team member continued. “Second, we always set our fellow wingmen up for success; while this course pales in comparison to the actual one, it does provide a very realistic view of what they will encounter should they make it through our challenges.”
And the challenges were intense and many for these lucky eight. After being met the first morning with a 5 a.m. physical fitness test, the group immediately set off on a ruck march around the base, lugging excess weight in tight formation. When yelling from instructors lost its motivational edge, the group was presented with motivational physical training to reinvigorate them.
Over the three-day course, candidates also faced obstacle courses, communications overviews and tactical lessons geared toward familiarization for DAGRE qualification.
“The actual DAGRE training is about testing and pushing every conceivable limit; we have to throw everything we can at our candidates so the few who make it all the way through succeed,” stated another DAGRE team member. “We see the exhaustion and fatigue splashed across their faces… we know when they are starting to crash, that is when we give them another round of intensity to see if they can push through the pain.”
Instructors stressed that while this course is meant to be brutal, safety is paramount. Candidates are constantly reminded to stay hydrated, each member is checked after benchmarks to ensure they are not in any serious medical danger, and candidates are always encouraged to exercise the wingman concept.
“Anyone can call knock-it-off at any time,” a DAGRE instructor stated. “If things seem unsafe, someone feels extensive pain or notices a wingman in duress, they are highly encouraged to stop and ask for help.”
As the days progressed, it became evident just how vast responsibilities would be for the few selected to become DAGRE certified. DAGRE team members are entrusted with advising mission commanders on force protection measures, securing resources by assessing and interfacing with other in-place Department of Defense and host nation forces, and coordinating with the Office of Special Investigations when available.
“When we talk about our primary focus being SOF assets, we are referring to everything – people, aircraft, equipment and resources,” stated one of Cannon’s DAGRE program managers and team members. “Our scope of responsibility is much more complex that people might realize.”
There are currently an estimated 200 DAGRE members within the Air Force; a small fraction of which are actively engaged in DAGRE missions worldwide. Of the eight potentials in the current Cannon pre-qualification course, only the top five in the class will earn positions in the DAGRE section.
If selected to attend the course at Hurlburt, students will take a leadership, communications, fly-away security, combatives, tactics, tactical vehicle operations and DAGRE qualification courses. The training they received at Cannon will serve as a foundation to ease their transition.
“It is great to see how this program has grown and evolved since I went through here a few years back,” stated one of Cannon’s newer DAGRE team members. “We have incredible leadership within this section along with the support we need to continue growing. It is extremely rewarding to be part of such a close-knit group; we have a lot of camaraderie within DAGRE.”