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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Don’t be alarmed when airmen start appearing in public wearing bulky facemasks and “space suits.”

The gear is part of the 35th Fighter Wing’s upcoming Operational Readiness Exercise, which starts Thursday and concludes May 24.

Designed to test the wing’s 3,500 airmen and dozens of fighter jets in simulated combat, the ORE will be played in two parts, said Lt. Col. Andrew Dembosky, chief of plans, programs and inspections.

In the Initial Response Readiness Exercise, the wing will have to demonstrate its ability to deploy in support of a fictional contingency.

That training should wrap up sometime Saturday, Dembosky said.

The wing will “pause” until Monday morning, when the Combat Employment Readiness Exercise begins.

Airmen in the CERE will practice “surviving and operating” in a nuclear, chemical and biological environment, though they’ll pretend they’re at a deployed location and not at Misawa.

It’s during the CERE that the chemical warfare gear comes out. Also written into the script are regular enemy and special operations forces, unexploded ordnance, dropped munitions, vehicle mishaps and other typical wartime hazards, Dembosky said.

“It’s all part of a continuing effort to demonstrate and improve our readiness, with a complementary goal of preparing for the PACAF inspection,” he said.

The wing has four more OREs scheduled before the March 2007 Operational Readiness Inspection — an exercise similar to the ORE but evaluated by a team from Pacific Air Forces. For the upcoming ORE, 140 wing officers and noncommissioned officers will judge the airmen’s performance. Dembosky said ORE participants should expect to see more scenarios that require them to use self-aid and buddy care.

Base officials don’t expect interruptions to any major base services during the exercise, though the facility waiting times may be longer due to reduced manning.

No public roads will be cordoned off, but Dembosky said the north side of the flight line where aircraft maintenance units and the 13th and 14th fighter squadrons are assigned will be closed to dependents during the exercise.

The base-wide public announcement system, or “giant voice,” will relay exercise updates, as will American Forces Network EDGE Radio 1575 AM. More sorties than usual will be launched during the exercise, but quiet hours will remain from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., Dembosky said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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