HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- Invaders from the Orange Country slowly crept up on airmen from the 729th Air Control Squadron, only to be turned away in a violent firefight.
The loud exchange of gunfire wasn't exactly real-world combat, but for 45 airmen at Hill Air Force Base, the pragmatic training scenario was probably the next best thing.
Hill's 729th ACS held its annual "Raging Bull" exercise this week, a wartime training mission where the squadron provides communication and controls airspace in a simulated bare base, hostile environment.
"We're basically the eyes and ears of a combat (team)," said Lt. Col Darin Humiston, commander of the 729th. "In this exercise, we're essentially on the border of a friendly country and a hostile country, who happens to be acting as an aggressor."
Humiston said that in the simulation, the hostile country was simply known as the "Orange Country."
"We didn't want to use the name of any real country because we didn't want anyone out there to get the wrong idea or try to find any hidden meanings in what we're doing," he said.
Thursday represented the final day of the week-long exercise and included the sneak attack from the Orange Country -- a group of simulated enemy combatants that was made up of members of Hill's Security Forces Squadron, commonly known as the base police.
"It is important we take every opportunity to ensure our unit is combat ready," Humiston said. "We want our airmen to get used to this type of constant pressure. You fight like you train."
The airmen trained as they do in combat, except that they used blanks in their rifles.
Airman 1st Class Chris Martinez is a radar technician by trade, but said that combat training is essential for all service members who deploy to a hostile environment.
"We all have our primary jobs and they don't necessarily involve combat," Martinez said. "But when you deploy to a place like Afghanistan, you have to be prepared for anything. That's why we try to make this (training) as realistic as possible -- we want to get better."
Unlike most years, Raging Bull was conducted at Hill this year, on a 50-acre piece of open land on the base's west side. The group usually conducts the exercise in Utah's west desert at the Utah Test and Training Range,
Humiston said that while he was planning for the training, the federal government shutdown was in full swing and no budget had been passed by Congress.
"Because of that, we had to make a decision," he said. "If we had decided to wait (until the budget issue was resolved) we could have been doing this when the weather conditions were a lot worse. We just decided to plan on doing it here, but we prefer to do it out at the UTTR."
The 729th ACS has been continuously deploying in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom since 2003 and provides theater-level command and control of air power during war and other military operations.
The group was last in Afghanistan from January through June of this year. Humiston said his squadron will likely return to the country some time next spring.
Contact reporter Mitch Shaw at 801-625-4233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23.