DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. --
Insurgents slowly approach a bazaar, hugging a wall as they creep down an empty street. Armed with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s, they are on the hunt for U.S. troops rumored to be in the area. In an adjacent field, an MV-22 Osprey kicks up a thick cloud of dirt as it lands. Excited by the target, the insurgents scale the wall only to be quickly neutralized by a force of waiting Marines.
The insurgents survived, because they were actually Airmen from the 563d Operations Support Squadron, and the lonely village they patrolled wasn’t in Afghanistan, but New Mexico. The attack was part of a Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force certification exercise held at the Playas Training and Research Center, in Playas, N.M.
Acting as a realistic opposition force, also called OPFOR, is how the 563d OSS vigorously challenges units as they prepare to deploy.
“Supplying people and equipment to play in these exercises is a direct investment into the readiness of our guys going downrange,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Jeremiah Burleson, 563d OSS weapons and tactics flight commander. “Our entire objective here is to make sure these guys are ready to go. The more prepared they are to go out the door in a real-world scenario, the better we did our job.
“Too often these rescue exercises are ‘cut and paste, fly-in, fly-out’ scenarios,” Burleson continued. “So they aren’t used to dealing with opposition forces, and realistically, that’s what would happen. The more we challenge them, the better prepared they are.”
Dressed in middle-eastern garb, Airmen from the 563d OSS do their best to mimic scenarios and portray life-like downrange conditions.
“We (the 563d OSS) want to make the best and the most realistic scenarios so that the training environment is as close to the real thing as possible,” Burleson said. “This way, the first time these guys encounter an opposition force in real life, isn’t in combat. Even though the real thing may feel different, the more accurate we can be now, the less of a shock it is for these guys when they go downrange.”
OPFOR offers the realistic training that is tactically-similar to a scene that could play out in one of many locations while U.S. troops are deployed.
“We bring equipment that heightens the realism, like a 50-cal and an IR threat simulator, realistic attire and simulated weapons,” said Senior Airman Keaton Houser, 563d OSS rigger. “These exercises would be totally different without us here. I don’t think it would be nearly as valuable.”
“We were invited to participate because we offer personnel who are trained to fill the OPFOR role,” added Burleson. “But most of all, a group of people, who are passionate to go out, do this professionally and make it as real as possible.”
“I feel really lucky to be a part of the 563d,” said Tech. Sgt. Mykal Seqeuria, 563d OSS rigger. “We get to come out here and play the ‘bad guy’ part… shooting, making tactical movements and really stressing out the guys in the field. At the same, we’re offering a great training opportunity."