MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Explosions, chemical weapon attacks: not some possible Middle Eastern tomorrow but northern Japan today.

Air Force evaluators will stage a “war” of their own beginning this week as part of a combat employment readiness exercise.

It’s part of a two-week test of how well Air Force troops could survive simulated attacks while still operating the air base with a semblance of normality.

Last week, an initial readiness response exercise, or IRRE, was staged to test how well troops can ready people and pallets of equipment to deploy to a world hot spot.

“That involved us getting up and out of Dodge to a forward operating location,” said Maj. James Merchant, 35th Fighter Wing inspections chief.

Vital paperwork, like shot records, personnel files and war gear, were checked. Then troops were briefed about deploying to another base.

Nobody actually left the northern Honshu installation. Merchant said that would happen only during a real-world contingency, when cargo aircraft would assemble on Misawa’s flightline to airlift assets and people.

He said things really get exciting during the test’s second part — “CERE,” the combat employment portion: “We practice putting bombs on target in a hostile environment with a possible chemical weapon threat.”

Misawa’s 14th Fighter Squadron is deployed to Southwest Asia supporting Operation Southern Watch, so the 13th Fighter Squadron’s F-16s will do the bulk of flying during the CERE.

The major said Misawa fighter pilots and maintenance workers “will generate a lot of sorties and put a lot of bombs on target in a short period of time.”

All of them are to be simulated, of course — and none of this, Merchant said, is related to real-world events. “Our focus is to prepare for a Pacific Air Forces operational readiness inspection set for November,” he said. “Our exercise plans have been established a long time ago.”

Lending realism, Merchant said: ground burst simulators giving off blasts like real bombs and “victims” moulaged with simulated injuries.

For simulated attacks with chemical agents, troops will don Military Oriented Protective Posture gear, similar to the MOPP gear equipping troops waiting in the Middle East.

The difference: In Japan, approximately 100 exercise evaluators will watch how well troops react to what’s thrown at them.

“We’ll make the scenarios as realistic as possible,” said Capt. Richard Sanders, an EET member and commander of the 35th Civil Engineering Squadron’s environmental flight. “By its very nature, war is intense, so we’ll maintain a high level of intensity for the duration of the exercise.”

Sanders monitors civil engineering troops who, during real wars, have to repair battle-damaged runways and restore water and electrical supplies to the base.

Merchant said such evaluators assess all the exercises as they play out during two 12-hour shifts around the clock. “We look for extremely good performances, and at areas that need improvement,” he said. “We’ll even remove a key person from a work center to see how well they function without them.”

This is Sanders’ first exercise as an evaluator, although he said he picked up knowledge accompanying a PACAF inspection team to Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.

“It’s nice having the script knowing when the next attack is coming,” he said, referring to the privileges of being an EET member.

Tech. Sgt. Margo Miller is in charge of protecting Misawa’s computer network from cyber attacks, and she makes timely distribution of critical exercise-related information to base work centers. In nearly five years at Misawa, she’s seen many exercises. In December, she returned from a 98-day deployment to Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia.

Now, tensions build in the Middle East, and in nearby North Korea. But those realities, she said, don’t influence the intensity she puts into the exercise.

“I don’t focus on the real world. I practice hard every time because I have to be ready at any point in time,” she said of the 12-hour work shift during exercises. “That’s the way I practice. That’s the way I play.”

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