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Airmen face fears, learn vital TRF skills

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --

“Rappelling,” yells the Airman, hesitantly placing his feet on the wall, one hand atop his head, the other gripping the rope he was set to descend.

“Rappel on!” comes the response from seventy feet below the cold, windswept outcropping at the Cheyenne Fire Department training facility. The Airman takes a deep breath, exhales and begins to descend the sheer wall face.

This exchange and more were repeated several times each for the 12 Airmen from the 790th Missile Security Forces Squadron who participated in the rappelling class organized by the 790th Tactical Response Force Feb. 25, in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The TRF is a special weapons and tactics team tasked with protecting U.S. Air Force intercontinental ballistic missile bases, augmenting existing security forces to guard and deny access to ICBM-related infrastructure. These Airmen also provide a reaction force for convoys carrying critical assets.

 “The class is designed to prepare Airmen in TRF if the worst thing happens and we need to get down to the personnel access hatch on the launch facility,” said Staff Sgt. Lamar Sjouwke, master rappeller and the lead trainer for the TRF rappelling course.

In the course, Sjouwke and his team, Staff Sgt. Charles Bowen, Senior Airman Brendan Rinehart, Senior Airman Ian Saso and Senior Airman Desmond Turner, show 12-15 students the basics of rappelling.

“In this first familiarization course, we teach them how to properly inspect their gear, basic knots and how to tie the knots they’ll need and how to safely and correctly rappel down the wall,” Sjouwke said.

From there, the students leave the classroom and head to the training facility, where the looming height of the descent becomes much clearer.

 “One of the first questions I ask is ‘who’s scared of heights’ and usually nobody raises their hands. I usually just respond with, ‘we’ll see,’” Sjouwke said.

Airman 1st Class Trevor Muenzer, one of three people who admitted to not being particularly fond of heights at the onset of the class, had an additional reason for attending.

 “I don’t like being afraid of anything. Being afraid is limiting and the only way to get over being limited by something is to get out and do it,” Muenzer said. “Plus, the opportunity to learn from these guys is an opportunity worth taking. Someday I’d love to join TRF.”

Although the students mentioned several reasons for being there, many of them indicated interest in joining TRF at some point in their Air Force careers, seeing the unit as an elite opportunity.

Though reluctance to take the first step was a common theme, several were flushed with excitement after finishing their first descents.

“The first couple of steps were hard,” said Airman 1st Class Madison Shainline, “Once you got going, it was an adrenaline rush.”

Even though that reluctance was present, training kicked in and they all made the descent, first from 30 feet and then from 70.

“It’s like Sgt. SJ said,” said Senior Airman Ivanna Lopez. “You trust your people and you trust your equipment.”

The trust in the equipment and people is crucial, but it comes from training like the basic rappelling course. Those courses begin the process of preparing defenders to know not just to trust their equipment, but also how to ensure their equipment is in the right shape to descend the wall and to know that the Airman next to them is also so prepared.

“In case the worst happens,” said Sjouwke, “I’m going to do what I can to make the students who come through the rappelling course are prepared to face the threat.”