YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Even though a significant chunk of personnel are away supporting the global war on terrorism and tsunami relief missions in South Asia, 374th Airlift Wing officials are moving ahead with the year’s first Operational Readiness Exercise, which plays out this week.

But there might be a bit less urgency for participants after Pacific Air Forces announced it would delay the upcoming Operational Readiness Inspection until February 2006. Originally scheduled for late May of this year, it was delayed in part because of the U.S. military’s ongoing tsunami relief efforts in South Asia.

“It’s better to have most of your people around so you can test the entire wing instead of just a portion,” said 1st Lt. Warren Comer, a 374th Airlift Wing spokesman. “With the people we have gone for the tsunami, [the exercise] won’t be as extensive as normally seen. Basically, this tests our readiness to deploy — for any kind of contingency.”

Yokota has certainly had its share of real-world practice lately.

Over the past month, about 250 airmen were sent to regions affected by the catastrophic Dec. 26 tsunamis for humanitarian-assistance missions. Another 250 left for various locations in Southwest Asia to support operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in the war on terror.

“The stuff we just did with tsunami relief is somewhat similar to what we’d do in an ORE,” Comer said. “That was basically done to provide relief, not to defend Japan. But it still had a lot of things that would normally take place in both situations: deploying airmen out to take part in a mission.”

Yokota engaged in a grueling around-the-clock, high-tempo ORE in September, airlifting forces and cargo to South Korea after the outbreak of “hostilities” on the peninsula. In November, a scaled-down version was held.

Beginning Monday, airmen will again tackle scenarios generated by the base’s inspector general team, which will evaluate personnel throughout the week.

“This will be just as intense at times, but people won’t be hearing a lot of the alarms and stuff going off like they do during other OREs,” Comer added.

In September, the overrun on the south end of Yokota’s runway was closed for the exercise’s duration. That won’t occur this time, he said, and no major facility closures are planned.

Base officials routinely alert local Japanese authorities about scheduled exercises while conducting most operations during daytime hours in an effort to reduce the noise impact on surrounding communities.

Prior to the ORI change, Yokota officials had mapped out additional drills for March and April.

“The commanders are tweaking the ORE schedule right now,” Comer said. “They want to make sure we’ll be fully prepared for the ORI next February, so we’ll still do a pretty good exercise schedule between then and now.”

Typically, an overall grade is handed out by the base’s IG office about two weeks after the exercise. It’s based on a standard five-tier evaluation system used by the Air Force, which delivers marks to denote outstanding, excellent, satisfactory, marginal and unsatisfactory performances.

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