EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- It’s just another day in the office; the computers are humming, keyboard strokes are sounding and engines are starting to be spun-up and sent to work.
“ALARM BLACK, MOPP LEVEL 4”
You hear the words over the speaker system, AtHoc messages are ringing on everyone’s phones and Airmen are looking to supervisors to get their next instructions.
Everyone takes the appropriate actions and situates themselves under their desks, waiting for their next move. Not knowing what’s going on, anticipation is high and minds are scattered thinking about what comes next, and when the next alarm will sound.
Tensions start to flare as individuals get antsy and want answers as to what is taking so long. Whispers are heard throughout the flight as everyone wonders how long they have to sit and wait; it’s just an exercise after-all.
What really happens when Airmen on Eielson Air Force Base hunker down for what seems like hours during exercises and why does it take so long to recover?
“Alarm Black is the most dangerous time to be out, which is why we hunker down; it’s after an attack and it’s all unknown,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jason Blair, the 354th Fighter Wing inspector general superintendent. “Once we hit alarm black, the attack is over, but we send out the most limited number of people we can to assess for damage, contaminants, unexploded ordnances and other threats.”
The initial release for alarm black is restricted to critical individuals who can help identify each hazard the base is facing. The chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive reconnaissance response team, the damage assessment response team and the airfield damage assessment team are the three main groups of individuals who are released.
“The CBRNE team is released to either confirm or deny the presence of contaminants,” said Blair. “The DART team is out to assess damage around the base while the ADAT team assess potential damage done to the airfield. All of this can take time, even for a small base like Eielson.”
Once the initial damage is accounted for, a limited release notice is sent out while still in alarm black; the base isn’t out of the woods yet.
“During the limited release, the Post Attack Reconnaissance teams do their sweep, and this is where they determine what the extent of the hazards are,” said Blair, who is an emergency management Airman by trade. “It is still a dangerous stage as chemical agents can still be present in the air.”
The PAR teams start to call in all of the damage, threats and UXOs they see. The emergency operation center then prioritizes the urgency of each threat and what to fix first.
“We then go into what we call split-mopping,” said Blair. “This is when we will release certain areas that are cleared to continue on with the mission, while hazard areas are still locked down so the teams can finish the clean-up.”
When the notification comes out for alarm green, the base can rest assured that each team was thorough in their checks and that we officially know all the threats that are infringing operations on the base.
“Exercises like this are extremely important for the base to practice and maintain ability in,” said Blair. “The enemy we face is real; the intent of harm when CBRNE capabilities are used is real, and we must be prepared for it.”
Base exercises may seem mundane or redundant, but the importance of being “Ready to Fight Tonight” far outweighs the sometimes lengthy processes. We must be ready for anything, we must be proficient in emergency operations and for the Iceman Team, we will always be “Ready to go at 50 below.”