CAMP RILEA, WARRENTON, Ore. --
Nearly 250 members of the Oregon Air National Guard' s Combat Operations Group (COG) mobilized here, June 19-22 for a five-day training opportunity, which focused on constructing unit camaraderie. It is the first time the unit's Airmen have trained together en-masse.
Speaking before the group on the first day of training, Col. Michael Bieniewicz, Combat Operations Group commander, emphasized the unit's objectives through the joint training program.
"As four distinct units we share common objectives with our combat communication missions," Bieniewicz said. "(This) is why we want to come together, begin to blur the lines and share our expertise with each other in one setting."
The occasion for Airmen to assemble, interact and train was filled with both scheduled events and opportunities for less-structured informal collaboration.
As a former member of the Oregon Air Guard, Chief Master Sgt. James T. Hotaling, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air National Guard, returned to host a town hall session in conjunction with the unit's training.
"I cannot tell you how good it is to be back home, see familiar faces and catch up with the everyone here," Hotaling said.
Hotaling discussed the direction of the Air National Guard, and spoke about how humbling it was to be back in his home state. Other key topics discussed were force development, enlisted performance appraisals, promotion benchmarks, Air Force core values, fitness and health standard in the Guard and how they align with the active-duty Air Force.
Hotaling challenged the Airmen in the audience about their roles as members of the National Guard.
"As members of the Profession of Arms, we all hold a unique trust and responsibility to the citizens we serve and protect," he said.
One unique ceremony was a reveille and retreat flag ceremony on the second day of training, which allowed the entire group to come together while honoring their nation's colors.
Building on the concept of teamwork, an entire day was spent with members of the different units to cross train and become familiar with the equipment and procedures they employ.
Sitting atop one of the many larger generators housed at the 116th Air Control Squadron, Tech. Sgt. Richard Lowe reviewed start- up procedures to Airmen of the 270th Air Traffic Control Squadron.
"Many of these guys are contractors so I am helping them stay current with start- up and operating principles with the equipment we use everyday," said Lowe.
Having worked in the 116th for more than eight years, Lowe said he went through the basic checklist with several groups moving through the training lanes.
"They want to know more about what we do to supply generator power to run all the equipment in the field to include phones, electronics as well as heating and air conditioning," Lowe added.
While some Airmen continued to train on ground equipment, fellow Airmen with the 125th Special Tactics Squadron conducted airborne training operations in the skies above.
A group of combat controllers took advantage of the Pacific Ocean to train on water landings and, later - a halo parachute demonstration for all the COG members at the parade grounds at Camp Rilea.
Pausing to reflect on the near-perfect training environment and weather conditions, Bieniewicz praised the weather staff with a bit of humor.
"I think we need to acknowledge the guys from the 123rd Weather Flight and Special Operations weathermen of the 125th Special Tactics Squadron for delivering remarkable conditions all weekend."
Members of the COG took part in an all-day field exercise June 22 in order to enhance their individual fitness and unit morale. A ten-station "Monster Mash" course, laid out throughout the camp, challenged teams to quickly solve puzzling obstacles and to work together.
Ten teams, each made up of 17-20 Airmen, tackled a confidence course, medical search and rescue, boating skills, rifle ranges and other tests of endurance.
Airmen from the 125 STS led each team, yet it was often the younger Airmen who took on the more challenging tasks and improvised on the fly.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Hicks of the 123rd Weather Flight noted how effective and timely the training was for members of his unit.
"It was great," he said. "We even had one guy in our unit who has not even gone to basic training yet, but he was all over the confidence course."
As the week of training came to a close, COG members took part in a combat dining-in ritual following the weekend of endurance and building bridges.
Hotaling observed, and at times took part in the Monster Mash activities and the combat dining-in. He emphasized how important training and skill building is to Citizen-Airmen.
"The best part of the job is getting out to meet Airmen all over the country," Hotaling said. "There is one common factor I've found at every Air National Guard unit--the pride that our Airmen have in their military jobs."
As the Airmen gathered for one last muster on Sunday, Bieniewicz reflected on the key aspects of the unit's training.
"(This training) is a chance to get back to the basics, to get eyeball to eyeball with each other, and to reach out and look at new ways to work together," he said.
The COG was formed in 2002 and is comprised of the 125th Special Tactics Squadron
and the 123rd Weather Flight
, both headquartered at the Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore.; the 270th Air Traffic Control Squadron
, located at Kingsley Field, in Klamath Falls, Ore.; and the 116th Air Control Squadron
, located at Camp Rilea, Ore.