An insider's perspective... ORE

  • Published
  • By TSgt B. Kevin Coulter
  • 140th Wing Public Affairs
It is dark and cool at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado. An Operational Readiness Exercise has been running since yesterday, but sleepy Airmen are arriving to a dark parking lot that has been transformed to a giant dressing room.

Standing near their cars, you can see silhouettes getting dressed for the day. They're struggling with protective over garments - special thick shirts and pants worn over uniforms that offer a bit of protection from chemical attacks by an enemy. You can hear them grunting and stomping as they wrestle with rubber galoshes that refuse to slip easily over combat boots. Once they stand to their feet, web gear - padded suspenders with a pistol belt holding a canteen and a protective mask - is strapped on and around. How well it helps carry a load is somewhat offset by the way it restricts movement. Then, the "ribbon and bow" for the whole camouflage package goes around the waist - a reflective belt that shines brightly from the headlights of other cars.

This process is repeated hundreds of times. Looking a little like children who have been bundled up by overly protective mothers on the first cold day of school, the Airmen trundle off to begin their day.

As they stream to the Single Exercise Entry Point, or SEEP, the inspections begin. "When did you last inspect your mask?" "Do you have your Airman's manual?" "You forgot to tie those strings..." Rank doesn't matter here. Compliance and competence are what's being checked. It is only the first of the gauntlet.

Then there's the briefing: We're entering a war zone thousands of miles from home. Put away those thoughts of running out for lunch at noon. There are no restaurants or even cars here. You're in a hostile environment where you can get killed by an enemy or your own stupidity. Be alert!

Here are your self-administered chemical antidotes in the event of an enemy attack. "Do you have any questions on how to use them?" The training may be simulated, but the understanding of the horrors of chemical weapons is very real. No one ever wants to be on the receiving end of a chemical attack.

"Do you have any questions?" is the next to the last step. No-- I'm ready for this. We step out through the familiar doorway into a war zone thousands of miles from home and the long day begins with the sun peeking over the horizon.