DIRT School

Airmen practice radio communications while participating in DIRT school Oct. 22, 2020, at Hill Air Force Base.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Home to the Air Force’s first — and for now, only — fully-equipped F-35 combat wing, it’s only natural to view the airmen of Hill Air Force Base through the lens of fighting battles in the sky.

The reality, though, is that the war fighting capability of Utah’s largest military installation is much more diverse.

That truth was illustrated late last month when airmen from Hill’s 729th Air Control Squadron participated in DIRT, or Deployment Initial Readiness Training.

According to a news release from the 729th, the training teaches airmen convoy operations, field living, small arms skills, defensive site preparation, radio communication, Self Aid and Buddy Care under stress, and other readiness skills that will come in handy during ground combat operations.

The 729th says the 48-hour training also included airmen from Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho and follows a greater Department of Defense emphasis for the group to be more mobile and ready to fight anywhere in the world. For years, units like the 729th have been tasked to the U.S. Central Command, which stretches from the Horn of Africa, through the Arabian Gulf region and into Central Asia.

DIRT gives realistic training opportunities to first-time deployers, but also serves as a refresher for the more experienced members of the unit.

“I tell each class our purpose is to be ready and respond at a moment’s notice to any emerging contingencies worldwide,” Master Sgt. Matthew West, 729th ACS’s non-commissioned officer in charge, said in the release.

The squadron says new training on threats like cyber, electromagnetic spectrum operations and small unmanned aerial vehicles have been or will soon be implemented in upcoming exercises. Major Josiah Swim, assistant director of the group, said the monthly training goes a long way to make sure the group is ready.

“The fundamental field skills at DIRT school are critical to preparing our airmen’s mindset for deploying to remote locations,” he said.

Deployments have been picking up at Hill since the installation over the last two years.

Airmen from Hill’s 388th and 419th fighter wings have now served three combat deployments in less than two years.

According to 388th FW spokesperson Micah Garbarino, each of the wing’s three squadrons, alongside reservists from the 419th, have deployed in support of the Air Force Central Command’s mission at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. The 4th FS, which deployed in April 2019, was the first. The 34th FS followed, deploying in October 2019 and returning home in June and July. The 421st deployed in June and returned in October.

The F-35s, obviously, have played a key role in those deployments, but there’s been action on the ground as well.

Senior Master Sgt. Arnold Munroe was recently awarded an Air Force Commendation Medal and a Bronze Star for heroic action at a coalition forces military installation in Iraq. Munroe was involved in a series of rocket attacks that took place there from March 11-14, during which he helped protect coalition forces and recover wounded.

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