Call me ATSO one more time

  • Published
  • By Capt William-Joseph Mojica
  • 916th Air Refueling Wing
In the military of the 21st Century, the enemy can be anywhere, at any time, while often perceived as odorless, faceless and swift.

Missiles, mortars and rockets can each be launched within minutes while being outfitted with some pretty nasty chemicals leading to the dawning of protective gear as seen in various Hollywood films.

“Exercise, exercise, exercise…alarm red…MOPP level 4…exercise, exercise, exercise.”

At the sound of this sudden call Airmen expediently reach for their gas masks and frantically try to secure it to their heads within a matter of seconds as they acknowledge the elevated alarm level from the exercise.

A scene from various movies is exactly what it looked like as Airmen from the 916th Air Refueling Wing participated in an ability to survive and operate, or ATSO, rodeo during the November unit training assembly.

“Today sends a clear message to those that wish us ill that our Airmen are trained and prepared to fly, fight, and win under any scenario or condition,” said Col. Scovill Currin, 916th Air Refueling Wing commander.

Nearly 300 Airmen from the wing participated in the ATSO rodeo where they donned chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives gear.

“The ATSO rodeo is an exercise where we are practicing our ability to survive and operate in a chemically contaminated environment,” said Staff Sgt. Mary McKnight, an emergency management specialist within the wing. “If there is ever any sort of [chemical] attack, we can still complete our mission. We can ensure that the Air Force will continue to execute our mission for our Country.”

At the start of the training, Airmen entered the hangar and picked up their CBRNE gear consisting of a thick uniform with pants and a jacket, rubber boots, rubber gloves, glove inserts, a gas mask, and battle rattle full with a canteen and a belt, all of which is worn over the top of the uniform. Donning this suit requires the assistance of a buddy to make sure that everything is on correctly, because if worn improperly it could result in major injury or even death if chemical, radiological or biological agents leak through during a real-world attack.

“For me as an emergency manager, this is actually fun,” said McKnight. “We brief them and we try to get them excited because we definitely want to change the outlook of this training because of its importance. The way that I love it, we need everybody else to love it like that because it’s our job to stay prepared.”

While briefing the audience, instructors focused on the proper use of the gas mask highlighting how to ensure a proper seal so that members can safely work in a chemically contaminated environment.

“We need people to be confident in their gear because if they are confident in their gear then they can effectively do their job,” McKnight explained.

During the rodeo, members of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit provided expertise on explosives and projectiles to provide awareness of what members may see when conducting post-attack reconnaissance.

“When going through PAR routes, we have to recognize various potential explosives and know how to properly report this information back,” McKnight remarked. “Reporting accurately is critical because depending on what is reported back, the mission can halt even in the midst of a crisis.”

In an operational environment, Airmen could be expected to perform various roles including securing buildings, providing battlefield medical care, performing PAR sweeps, and up-channeling personnel and operational statuses up the chain.

“In order for us to adhere to our wing mission and Provide Rapid Global Refueling, On time, every time, we have to make sure that we are current on all of our training, this includes CBRNE and ATSO,” said Capt. James Bell, 916th Civil Engineer Flight commander. “As we continue to see the constant changing tactics of terrorisms throughout the world, we have to stay current on a multitude of skills in order to be able to respond when we’re called upon to do so.”

The readiness training program of the 916th ARW provides an opportunity to set up activities and exercises that enable Airmen to become more proficient with various mission sets like ATSO.

Because we don't know where the next war front may be or the conditions that they will be in, fostering a cooperative relationship among all Airmen, who collectively have a vast multitude of functional specialties, is a critical component to creating a unified mentality with real-world scenarios in mind when it comes to this type of training.

“This ATSO rodeo was the best I've seen throughout my career. Our stellar Reserve Citizen Airmen took a complicated and difficult set of training objectives and created a motivating and educational experience that our Airmen won't soon forget,” Currin highlighted.