Yokota airmen train to face a chemical attack
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Yokota Field on the edge of the base runway, normally a venue for intramural softball and flag-football games, became the site of a simulated chemical attack this week.
More than 3,000 airmen — decked out in full mission-oriented protective posture gear, or MOPP — practiced their ability to survive and operate in the aftermath. At various intervals, they stepped through a landscape littered with contaminated buildings, transition points, chemical detectors, cleansing stations, disposal containers and an area where vehicles had to be covered in plastic. The process took about 40 minutes per person.
It was part of Yokota’s Wing Readiness Inspection Week, a training stint designed to strengthen the base’s wartime mission. Evaluations were set for Friday.
The Civil Engineer Squadron’s Readiness Flight, led by Master Sgt. James Martin, directed the exercise, teaching airmen everything from the proper MOPP gear wear to how to check for unexploded ordnance and chemical contamination.
“We train them for an actual event, to make sure they’re good at these skills,” Martin said Thursday. “It’s extremely important that they practice their wartime skills.
“Our team is in charge of training the entire wing on how to do any type of readiness for ATSO (ability to survive and operate) events. … Disasters are us. But we deal with them, we don’t make them.”
Equipment and procedure variations are used to complicate scenario-driven drills, he said, but standardized functions have enhanced performance.
While the readiness flight often conducts classroom training, the outdoors always provides a dose of realism, Martin said. He said Senior Airman Julia Boykin was instrumental in organizing this week’s setup at Yokota Field. Boykin manages a 36-member readiness support team composed of Civil Engineer and Communication squadron elements.
“I had lots of help,” said Boykin. “This training is good because it’s the best way for us to tell the whole wing how things are supposed to go if an attack happens. They’ve got one source. It’s not only an opportunity for us to teach them, but an opportunity for them to practice as well. I think it’s going real well.”
Capt. Jen Whetstone, a UH-1N helicopter pilot with Yokota’s 459th Airlift Squadron, said her unit routinely works with gas masks and chemical suits on scheduled training days.
“We have a lot … so we MOPP up quite a bit,” she said after emerging from Thursday’s line. “That prepared us for it.
“This was really good. We talk about it in the classroom and go through the motions, but it’s beneficial to do it hands-on. You get to see a little more of what it’d be like in real life.”