Airmen respond quickly after walking into active-shooter exercise at RAF Mildenhall
RAF MILDENHALL, England — As sudden as a gunshot, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Tyler Ablee emerged from the automatic double doors leading into the food court with his wife and ended up thrust into an active-shooter exercise.
“I came to get a haircut before I show up to work,” Ablee said.
Ablee was unaware that a few minutes beforehand, 15 deafening shots from an assault rifle marked the start of the exercise at RAF Mildenhall.
Three shooters fired, leaving two participants marked dead and eight injured. The shooters then fled the building to barricade themselves inside a nearby post office.
Cries for help from the simulated casualties rang hollow in an empty food court, while employees at Dunkin Donuts and Burger King huddled behind their service counters for cover.
Ablee has only been at RAF Mildenhall for about a week, but his training as a pararescueman made him the perfect first responder. His job tasks him with recovery and emergency medical treatment of personnel in humanitarian and combat environments.
With his hands full trying to treat people spread throughout the food court, Ablee began recruiting from the less-injured casualties.
“I’d find people that were shot but not too injured where they couldn’t help me,” Ablee said. “I had them hold people that were bleeding, apply direct pressure and calm people down.”
Staff Sgt. Jeremy Pettigrew was next to stumble into the scene with hopes for a nice breakfast before his newcomer’s brief to the base.
Pettigrew provided a much-needed hand to Ablee. The two airmen worked together to assess, treat and care for the eight surviving victims until security forces and medics arrived.
Over at the base’s post office, security forces established a mock command center and began negotiations with the shooters inside.
This exercise response was more comprehensive this year because British police and medical teams from off base were involved, Air Force officials said.
“An active shooter like this, joint with our U.K. partners, has never been done here,” said Capt. Scott Platow, of the 100th Air Refueling Wing Inspector General office. “Typically, we keep it in house and it’s simple. This takes a lot more coordination and that’s really the focus of this one.”
Police with the British Defense Ministry provided tactical assistance and arrested the simulated shooters detained on base by Air Force security forces.
“In the U.K. this year we’ve seen many terror attacks,” said Police Constable James Vyse, of Norfolk and Suffolk Constabularies’ firearms training and operations unit. “Fingers crossed, nothing’s happened on the bases but we still need to test our reaction and see how we work with our American colleagues.”
British hospitals can provide beds for patients unable to stay at the Air Force hospital at RAF Lakenheath, due to limited capacity.
“If we’re talking a mass casualty incident, this is very quickly going to go from using local hospitals to regional or national hospitals,” said Craig King, liaison officer with East Anglian ambulance services.
Amid the drama, the active shooter exercise at RAF Mildenhall familiarized participants with what U.K. services they need to contact, the time it takes personnel to respond from off-base and how to get them securely through the gate to an on-base emergency.