AFRL Tech Warrior instructors train scientists, engineers in practical warfighter skills

  • Published
  • By Marisa Alia-Novobilski
  • Air Force Research Laboratory

FAIRBORN, Ohio – To train a scientist or engineer to think ‘outside of the lab’ is no small task, but it’s one that the silent professionals of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Tech Warrior training exercise take to heart, as they train laboratory experts to succeed in the battlefield environment.

“We take scientists out of the lab and let them spend some time in our boots,” said Master Sgt. Daniel DeMotta, a Tech Warrior instructor from the 377th Security Forces Group based at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. “We provide them with tactical battlefield knowledge and skills so that they can go back to the lab and create better technologies for our Airmen.”  

The annual AFRL Tech Warrior exercise, taking place this year from Sept. 19-29 at the National Center for Medical Readiness in Fairborn, Ohio, provides laboratory scientists and engineers the opportunity to participate in an intense battlefield immersion training exercise and to essentially ‘walk in the shoes’ of the Airmen for whom they create new technologies for on a daily basis. The participants, many who have never or will ever experience a deployed environment, gain a firsthand understanding of the rigorous training and stresses Airmen experience in the operational field.

The training, which spans multiple days of the overall event, includes basic weapon handling, first aid, land navigation, mounted operations, casualty response and more. Though these skills are taught early to the warfighter, for AFRL researchers, basic warfighter skills are often new undertakings for the technical and scientific minded.

“Our basic fundamentals are not basic to them, said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Gillette, an electronic security systems expert at the 88th Air Base Wing Security Forces Group based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, who is teaching vehicle tactics and mounted operations, among others, during this year’s event. “The training we provide is almost identical to that provided to Airmen before they deploy. It’s extremely realistic and is structured to flow in the same way.”

To enable the Tech Warrior scientists and engineers to succeed in this environment, a cadre of dedicated training instructors and subject matter experts from across the Air Force volunteer their expertise in support of the event. Many return year after year, training participants to safely and expertly execute military missions in the same way Airmen train prior to actual deployment in a war zone.

Both Gillette and DeMotta share a similar Air Force history, serving together at the 421st Combat Training Squadron where they helped grow and refine the tactical security element training provided to security forces members who support ‘outside-the-wire’ missions in deployed locations. Tech Warrior provides them not only the opportunity to reunite, but to teach and share the wealth of knowledge they gained over the years, imparting tactical knowledge while refining their own teaching skills in the process.

“It’s different working with scientists and engineers, and I’ve had to learn new ways of thinking about what I do and how I approach training,” said Gillette. “For instance, to fire a weapon you release the safety, put it to your shoulder, aim, pull the trigger, and it goes ‘boom.’ The scientists and engineers will ask, ‘what makes it go boom, and why does the round come out?’ We have to go back and explain the whole operating system to them before they can fire. Our basic fundamental skills are new for them.”

Tech Warrior participants undergo a week of classroom and practical training activities designed to provide a basic fundamental understanding of different missions and tactics for battlefield success. During the three-day field training portion of the event, participants put the training together, executing simulated missions and operational scenarios. Though formal instruction has ended at this time, the instructors act as observers and evaluators, providing support and feedback to the warriors to enable them to be a success.

“Crawl, walk, run is our approach. During the first week we work on the basics—we’re crawling. Then we work on practical applications (walk), and the FTX (field training exercise) is when we run,” said Gillette. “During the FTX we mentor and support the warriors and have the ability to pull them aside to tell them what they are doing right and where they can improve.”

C.J. Zimmerman, a civilian detective with the 88th Security Forces Squadron and retired active duty Airman, is participating for the second time this year in Tech Warrior. In addition to the camaraderie he enjoys through interactions with personnel from different bases and locations, the benefits of networking with AFRL scientists and engineers are reciprocal for both parties.

“We focus on teaching basic warfighter skills so that the scientists and engineers can go back to the lab with hands-on experience that will enable them to better design technology for the field,” said Zimmerman. “In return, we get to see emerging technologies and give feedback on what will work and what will not. This helps us to learn from each other.”

In the end, both the cadre and warrior benefit mutually from the planning, training and execution of the Tech Warrior experience overall.

“In addition to honing my instructor skills, the biggest benefit has been learning that there are so many things happening in AFRL,” said DeMotta. “I better understand AFRL capabilities and can bring this knowledge back to my squadron to see how we can work together. At the same time, they (the scientists) can go back to the labs and made something better for the warfighter. We all benefit in the end.”