By Staff Sgt. J. Aaron Breeden
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. — Hot, white light from their helmets cut through the heavy smoke like a New England lighthouse. In search of victims trapped by fire and billowing haze, the Cheyenne Mountain AFS firefighters rushed into the chaos with a single thought: “This is my job.”
The result of a chemical spill, firefighters pulled victims from the smoldering corridor, decontaminating each individual before handing them over to a medical triage team. The triage team methodically diagnosed each patient while providing initial treatment for chemical burns, skin irritations, and smoke inhalation. After these initial diagnoses, teams of three and four used litters to carry victims to an impromptu clinic for more comprehensive care and treatment.
This was the scene Oct. 30 at CMAFS during U.S. Northern Command’s annual Vigilant Shield homeland defense exercise. During the exercise, the 721st Mission Support Group tested its readiness and effectiveness of in-house assets during a “button-up” contingency, when its blast doors are closed for simulated enemy attacks.
In addition to testing the CMAFS firefighters, volunteer victims served as training aids to help personnel from medical, mental health and chaplaincy agencies to expect the unexpected.
Dino Bonaldo, 721st Civil Engineer Squadron director, said that because the heat ventilation and exhaust system dynamics are so different during a button-up, the impacts and consequences of any contingency within Cheyenne Mountain are greatly magnified.
“Contingency operations are CE centric,” said Bonaldo. “You have to practice like you play. If you don’t practice, you don’t develop that automatic, disciplined response that is critical when seconds count.”
Bonaldo further emphasized the importance of these types of exercises as they impact not only local, but also national defense response abilities.
“Unless you practice, there will be a delay in your response,” said Bonaldo. “We continue to leverage that disciplined, repeatable and efficient response with our mutual aid partners in the community, capable of responding to the full spectrum of contingencies.”
Built in the Cold War era, CMAFS today operates, maintains, secures, sustains, mobilizes, tests, and controls the worldwide warning and surveillance system for North America. Its role is key to supporting the national defense mission.
“The Mountain exists because of its survivability, reliability and security,” said Col. Travis Harsha, CMAFS and 721st Mission Support Group commander. “It’s ‘America’s Fortress,’ perhaps the most impenetrable command center on Earth, providing its occupants 99.999 percent reliability for power, water, air and more. We support NORAD, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Strategic Command and Air Force Space Command crews to perform their air defense, space surveillance and missile warning missions to defend the United States and Canada and our allies.”
Harsha added that with any exercise like Vigilant Shield, training is the goal.
“Overall the exercise was a success for us,” said Harsha. “It honed our people and processes to better support our critical homeland defense missions. I am very proud of everyone involved and I know we are ready for anything.”