By Lea Johnson
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Increased force protection conditions, car wrecks, building evacuations due to bomb threats, and active shooters all within a four day period. To those unfamiliar with life on a military installation, it probably sounds like a nightmare. For Airmen and civilians on Peterson Air Force Base, it’s just another exercise; part of the wing’s continued commitment to ensure base readiness.
But it isn’t really “just another exercise.” According to Bill Edwards, 21st Space Wing Exercise Evaluation Team chief, training happens every day on the job, and exercises are how the wing evaluates its ability to perform its day-to-day mission. “We want to see if our current procedures can get us through an emergency, if they’re living up to Air Force standards,” he said.
The EET works hard to develop exercise scenarios that include all functional areas, from first responders to chaplains to the comptroller squadron. However, one of the biggest hindrances to exercises is a misunderstanding about where Airmen fit in the big picture and why their performance in an exercise matters.
Staff Sgt. Tracy Forton, 21st Operations Group geographically separated unit security support noncommissioned officer in charge, is a member of the EET but he remembers what exercises were like as a young airman. “They would do (exercises) all the time and I didn’t understand the purpose behind it. I didn’t really see the value of it,” he said.
Forton realized the value of exercises when he started teaching younger Airmen. “That’s when I started to learn that exercises are critically important and it’s how you evaluate your readiness,” he said.
To use an old cliché, Forton said, “Practice makes perfect.”
Staff Sgt. James Blaz, 21st Comptroller Squadron NCOIC of travel pay, is a new EET member. He agreed with Forton’s thoughts about practicing. “You should always be preparing as if it is something real so that when it is real you’re able to do what you need to do without thinking about it, like muscle memory,” Blaz said. “If you’ve been preparing for it, then when it does happen there’s no chaos, there’s no panic. You know what you need to do and can get out safely.”
To help Airmen understand why exercises matter, both Forton and Blaz recommended supervisors show Airmen how they fit in the big picture of different scenarios. As Forton pointed out, it may seem inconvenient to hide under a desk during a lock-down, but getting under a desk and keeping quiet could save lives in a real event.
Airmen should also take the initiative to ask their supervisors “why,” about anything they do not understand. “Get involved,” Forton said. “Have your supervisors sit down and explain things to you.”
As an EET member, Forton said one of the biggest issues he sees from Airmen is not showing a sense of urgency during an exercise. “If you fail to actually conduct your actions like real world, then when push comes to shove you’re going to fail during a real-world situation,” he said. “Even if you make a mistake, that’s fine. We can show you what you did wrong and you’ll know what you need to do to fix it for next time.”
Blaz pointed out the next alarm could be the real deal. “So you should always be preparing just in case. If you don’t respond accordingly, it could be someone’s life or it could be your own,” he said.
Exercises scheduled for the coming fiscal year include: Oct. 22-26; Feb. 25-March 1; March 27-29; May 6-10; and Aug. 19-23.