Combat Airman Skills Training (CAST)

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jim Loux
  • Commander, 217EIS
The 217th Engineering Installation Squadron is preparing for its second mobilization in 3 years. All our mobilized members including 14 repeat members will complete Combat Airmen Skills Training (CAST). This rotation will be our first venture to Camp Bullis TX, located deep in the heart of Texas. Members arrive at Lackland AFB and are then bussed about 50 miles away from the base to their camp nestled in the mountains.

The CAST course was designed by Air Education and Training Command to standardize predeployment combat training for Air Force personnel. CAST prepares members for the possibility of combat through the Combat Airmen Skills Training Course. Our engineering and installation personnel are tasked for a non-combat role; this course will provide them experience with handling firearms and knowledge of battlefield conditions. 

SMSgt Ron Thrall led our first team of installers through CAST. He is also a veteran of the CAST training at Ft Dix NJ. He stated that the training at Ft Bullis was more realistic, weapons were carried the entire time, the training gave you the experience of what to expect and what you had to do to survive, it was training at a lower level, it wasn't training to take over an operation. Also the instructors or cadre were all previous deployers and all Air Force instructors, they provided training based on actual experience. His favorite scenario was the "Box of Death"; this was during the paintball scenario. The cadre was holed up in the box (series of buildings) and each team had to transition to various points around the box or the kill zone to safely move their team or respond to injured victims. The moulage was fantastic, patients had blood spurting from their mouth and the paintball gave a sense of realism. You could not only see if you got hit but you could feel it. The target was center mass but anything was game. Students wore face shields, elbow and knee pads for protection.

 While the curriculum is standard across all three CAST sites, the training cadre at each is unique. At Bullis, instructors are combat specialists in areas such as combat control and pararescue. The recent class had 108 members; the group was divided into chalks with about 15 members each. This class had three 0-6s and the ranking 0-6 was the overall class leader. In charge of each chalk a Captain and an MSgt were appointed to lead the chalk. All chalks went through training at the same time. SSgt Mike Mondia, a veteran of the 30-day Army Combat training, thought CAST was fast paced, they didn't leave anything out, it was very organized. He especially liked getting the classroom instruction then immediately putting to use what he learned out in the field, it reinforced everything that was taught.

Camp Bullis is all field conditions. The dining facility and classroom use the same tent. A hot breakfast is served in the morning and MREs are issued for lunch. A hot meal and Gatorade is served for dinner. Each chalk is also assigned duties to keep the camp clean; duties range from classroom clean up to KP duty. Every member is responsible for safeguarding and cleaning their own weapon. During the 12 days of training the members did take a Sunday off. The bus picked up members at 0700 and took them to Lackland AFB until 1500. Members were housed by rank in 4-8 man tents. Lockers were not provided and they lived out of their bags during the training. Alcohol is absolutely forbidden and food was not allowed in the tents. The rationale for no food was that food attracts mice and mice attract snakes.

SrA Derek Borjon, a first-time deployer, thought the best part of CAST was getting familiar with the weapons and using them in different scenarios. Unlike Army expeditionary training, CAST is the bare essentials of combat survival--how to react to enemy contact, communicate and move as a team, identify hazards such as improvised explosive devices, and come home.