Camp Zama's reflexes tested during mock terror attack
CAMP ZAMA, Japan — U.S. military personnel faced an ugly scenario Thursday during the latest exercise to test their skills.
A truck driver hauling chemicals and an explosive device rammed through Gate No. 2 here, crashing into a passenger bus near the U.S. Army Garrison Japan headquarters building.
Base police, fire and ambulance crews who responded found 27 injured and three dead, including the suspected terrorist. A toxic plume of anhydrous ammonia had also spread from a barrel in the back of the pickup.
The rehearsal, a review of Zama’s ability to tackle a major attack or incident, was part of U.S. Army Pacific’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and (high-yield) Explosives exercise, or CBRNE. It involves elements of the Army, Air Force and Navy and is held alternately at Zama, Yokosuka Naval Base and Yokota Air Base.
“This training allows first responders to go through their procedures and work out other issues,” said Army Lt. Col. Michael Bender, U.S. Army Pacific’s CBRNE division chief. “You can’t flush out problems until you actually conduct this.”
Defense Department guidelines state that U.S. military installations must stage the exercise at least once a year.
“This was nine months in the works, with all the planning needed to get it coordinated and run properly,” Bender said.
The exercise featured more than 100 participants, including a Special Medical Operations Response Team and an explosive-ordnance disposal detachment from Yokosuka; Critical Incident Stress Management personnel from Naval Air Facility Atsugi; and a mortuary affairs unit from Yokota Air Base’s 374th Services Division.
Soldiers and Zama American High School students played Thursday’s victims. They were on a bus headed to an off-post golf tournament in Nichibei when it was hit by a fictional terrorist named Shamus O’no. Military police were in pursuit at the time.
Some people were “hurt” in the collision, others were “overcome” by the anhydrous ammonia, which can affect breathing, induce vomiting and incapacitate.
O’no was “killed” in the crash but had a possible bomb on his lap in the pickup.
Exercise planners had two victims take off on foot for the base clinic immediately after the incident.
“We wanted to see how the hospital would react to contaminated individuals,” Bender said. “By the book, they wouldn’t let them in. That’s a big procedure we wanted to test.”
While Zama military police secured the perimeter, firefighters and medical personnel tended to victims, who marched through decontamination lines. The Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine-Pacific was responsible for identifying the chemical agent, and a hazardous-material team later worked to contain the ammonia spill.
“There are a lot of moving parts,” said Lt. Col. Ron Stephens, commander of Zama’s Medical Activity-Japan and the U.S. Army Japan surgeon. “The object is to get all those moving parts working together as closely as possible.
“Training is critical. It’s what gets you ready to execute in case something happens. ... Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.”
While Thursday’s session was centered on the leak of an industrial chemical, the methods used by emergency responders can easily be employed during natural disasters and other terrorist attacks, Stephens added.
Pfc. Joshua Corll of U.S. Army Garrison Japan headquarters was portraying a trauma victim for the first time.
“It’s a simulation that’s in real time. It’s incredibly beneficial so others can learn and experience it and know how to respond.
“If we don’t take part in these exercises, how will we know how we’re gonna react?”