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Surviving in a hostile environment: a first-person look at what the Ability to Survive and Operate means to AMC and MacDill

by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman
Thunderbolt editor
Photo by Airman 1st Class Melissa A. Padilla

Personnel from the 6th Air Mobility Wing mobilize an injured member with the supervision of an inspector (background) in the ATSO inspection Tuesday.

The piercing screams of the Airman outside the tent made it hard not to help her. Apparently she was bleeding severely but she had to wait until the attack was over before anyone could venture outside to help. When the explosions finally stopped, a phone call from the Survival Recovery Center confirmed the attack was over and we could go outside to help our wounded Airman.

She wasn't bleeding nearly as badly as expected; in fact she wasn't injured at all. In reality, she had been pulled aside by an inspector and was designated a casualty during the first simulated round of attacks on Thunder Village here during MacDill's Ability to Survive and Operate inspection Tuesday.

An 11-member team from Air Mobility Command, headed by Lt. Col. Marc Richards, was here to inspect the 6th Air Mobility Wing's ability to accomplish 15 mission essential tasks.

"This isn't a numbers counting game but rather an overall assessment," said Colonel Richards when briefing Brig. Gen. Tanker Snyder, 6th AMW commander."

After months of practices, checklists and directions from Maj. Larry Cresswell, Exercises and Inspections chief, and the guys from the 6th Civil Engineer Squadron's readiness team, MacDill was fully prepared for the ATSO inspection. I knew what I had to do, but donning my chem-suit and gas mask wasn't exactly a walk in the park. It was more like suiting up in a self-contained, personal sauna.

A typical day at work for me is usually spent in an office. Tuesday however, I was part of a major inspection which required me to simulate operations in a hostile environment under attack by mortar fire, snipers and SCUD missiles carrying chemical agents; I was a little out of my element.

Along with the other 102 people taking part in the inspection, I had to wear a battle-dress overgarment, which is basically another layer of camouflage with a charcoal liner that acts as a filter in case of chemical contamination. I also had to wear rubber boots over my regular boots, a flak-vest designed to withstand bullets and explosions, and a helmet heavy enough to compress my spine by an inch. Then there was the load-bearing gear (kind of like suspenders) to carry my gas mask, ammunition container and canteen.

It's a necessary fact of life in the military; we are the greatest Air Force on the face of the planet and we have to know how to do these things. That doesn't mean it's always fun.

Some of the main objectives set by the AMC team included our ability to implement and sustain effective defense measures to lessen the impact of enemy attacks on our unit and mission. During the simulated enemy attacks, we took the appropriate threat-specific protective actions, which included taking cover, donning our gas masks, warning others and reporting critical information to the SRC.

When the attacks were over, sweep teams were sent out to check for any unexploded ordinance or chemical contamination. And since this was an inspection to see if we could do it right, of course there were unexploded munitions. There were different kinds too, like rocket-propelled grenades, bomblets and land mines were scattered in each of the four sectors of Thunder Village.

The teams noted the type of ordinance, location and time after using small flags similar to underground utility markers to mark the spot. Then they radioed in the information to our tent, which in turn phoned the SRC, which notified the explosive ordinance disposal team. The flow of this type of information was also on the long list of items the team from AMC was examining.

Also on that list was our ability to process chemically-contaminated individuals into a contamination free zone. To say that the process is meticulous would be a gross understatement. Practically every movement a person makes after entering the decontamination line is planned out with the express purpose of eliminating any chemical agents.

In the end, the 6th AMW passed the inspection with only one mark against it. Colonel Richards briefed General Snyder on some of the highlights of the exercise, mentioning that the communication throughout inspection was exceptional. He also briefed the areas the wing could improve upon such as the placement of bunkers in relation to the tents that were erected.

So while no actual Airmen were harmed during this inspection, we were all up to the challenge. The training and practices helped us prove once again that MacDill is second to none when it comes to our mission.




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