Weeklong exercise at Misawa tests combat skills
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — It’s easy to single out 35th Fighter Wing personnel here: They’re the ones driving around base in chemical warfare gear, and they’re not eating lunch at Burger King.
For five days this week, the wing is testing its airmen’s combat skills as part of a Combat Employment Readiness Exercise.
“You’re deployed to Base ‘X’ and you’re fighting a war,” said Master Sgt. Scott Maher, a 35th Maintenance Group member and a wing exercise evaluator.
The exercise kicked off at 6 a.m. sharp Monday and was expected to end sometime Friday. With several hundred airmen currently deployed for real-world assignments, most units are maintaining a 12- hour exercise schedule, scaling back from the typical 24- hour war game, base officials said.
The week has been punctuated by numerous scripted attacks involving rockets, aircraft and sniper fire, mortars, and chemical agents. Dressed in heavy chemical protective garb, airmen are tasked with providing first aid medical care to their wounded comrades in surprise, spur-of- the-moment scenarios.
Airman Eric Frantz on Wednesday afternoon played an injured servicemember with a piece of aluminum shrapnel lodged in his left eye. Using flesh putty and a fake eyeball and blood, Master Sgt. Jere Brewer, superintendent of 35th Medical Operations Squadron, and Tech. Sgt. Polly Miller of the 35th Dental Squadron, transformed one half of Frantz’s face into a ghoulish mask. The two moulage artists have created fractures, abrasions, gunshot wounds, intestinal protrusions and a sucking chest injury.
“The more we make this stuff real to them, the more they respond. They get their adrenaline going,” Brewer said. “We’ve done impalements with two-by-fours through the body.”
After a simulated attack, Frantz dropped in on a group of five airmen with the 35th Comptroller Squadron who were sitting in a small, windowless room in a building near the flight line — the airmen’s new work environment for the exercise’s duration. They can’t leave even for lunch, base officials said.
“What’s in my eye? What’s in my eye? I need something for the pain,” moaned Frantz as he stumbled and fell to the carpet.
While several exercise evaluators observed, the airmen responded fast to stabilize Frantz, pulling out their Airman’s Manual to review treatment for eye injuries. They ended up using a Dixie cup and gauze to cover Frantz’s hurt eye while also calling for outside medical help.
Halfway through the procedure, someone noticed red specks on masking tape wrapped around Frantz’s arm — a possible indication that he was chemically contaminated.
“I just have one question,” 1st Lt. Stephen Williams asked afterward. “Are we all dead?”
The evaluators said they didn’t believe the spots signified Frantz had come in contact with a nerve agent, though in a real-life situation, they should always assess a victim for possible chemical-exposure symptoms.
“They did a good job,” said Senior Master Sgt. Mark Branco, superintendent of 35th Comptroller Squadron and an exercise evaluator. “They worked together as a team.”
Branco said first aid in the field is the first thing airmen are trained to do after an attack. “We put a high priority on that,” he said. “Troops treating troops” has saved lives in Iraq, he noted.
The CERE is practice for the next Operational Readiness Inspection, tentatively slated for spring 2007.