By 2nd Lt. Darren Domingo
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
Units from the 50th Space Wing, Peterson Air Force Base and El Paso County converged at various locations on Schriever Air Force Base to test emergency response measures during the base’s exercise Nov. 16 — 19, 2015.
The base exercise was intended to ensure forces have and use the proper techniques, tactics and procedures to protect the base mission and the community through three scenarios; chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high yield explosives, hostage and active shooter situations. The exercise also tested the relationship between Schriever and El Paso County emergency response forces.
“The mission [of the exercise] was to effectively test how the wing would respond in an emergency,” said Capt. Rhonda Jones, 50 SW inspection planner. “It’s important we do this in exercises versus real world so that if these events were to happen, the units are prepared to react.”
Col. Anthony Mastalir, 50th Space Wing vice commander, explained the exercise was important for the safety of the base and the preservation of Schriever’s mission.
“The exercise was good not only for security forces, our operators and the base population, but also for the families living on base who may be less experienced with current force protection procedures,” said Mastalir. “This is one of the largest restricted areas in the Air Force and the capabilities here are critical to the warfighter. For this reason, we take security very seriously.”
The exercise was led and evaluated by the 50th Space Wing Inspector General office, which spent months planning for the exercise.
In order to create a more realistic exercise scenario, and to better assess the ability of base units to carry out their functions during an emergency, the Inspector General office employed Wing Inspection Teams. WITs are subject matter experts who support the inspection programs by evaluating their assigned units at a more detailed level.
“In the IG office there’s only a few of us and we’re not an expert on everything, so we use the SMEs as WITs to go out and help us inspect the different areas,” said Jones. “It involves a lot of moving pieces with WITs and SMEs. In this case outside agencies also [participated] so it takes a lot of work to coordinate everything.”
Schriever security forces, fire, medical and mental health units worked together during the active shooter scenario, which led into a hostage scenario, the exercise’s capstone event.
Throughout the exercise, Schriever worked with El Paso County’s emergency response units including the Special Weapons and Tactics team, mobile command post, police dogs and hostage negotiators.
“Our [security forces] contacted [El Paso County] and they responded real world to see how they would operate on base,” said Jones. “I think it’s important because Schriever is a little bit [far from town] and it’s good to work with the community and bring together military partners.”
Jones explained that overall, the exercise was successful. Schriever’s combined efforts with El Paso County and Peterson Air Force Base strengthened partnerships and increased experience in handling emergency scenarios.
“I think as a wing everybody did awesome, from the first responders, to the [security forces], to medical to fire,” said Jones. “We had some help from Peterson when their bio-environmental [team] came out and again from El Paso County — and even our WITs. Everybody was just on their ‘A game’ and ready to react as quickly as possible — I think all of us working together is what made it successful.”
Being prepared in the most extreme conditions is crucial to saving lives and protecting the mission, but Schriever personnel must understand there may be unseen factors the base must be ready to deal with.
“No matter how much we plan ahead, something will happen that we didn’t account for,” said Staff Sgt. Benjamin J. Bowles, 50 SW IG office. “We have to always be ready to react if an exercise comes off the rails. We don’t know what we don’t know.”
Mastalir explained that Schriever must come face-to-face with preparing for threats. It is an important reality.
“Our goal is to prepare for these types of situations,” said Mastalir. “Please understand the threat is real, so we must be ready. We practice what to do and how to stay safe.”