Thursday, January 17, 2002

Remember 9-11-01

During the Initial Response Readiness Exercises yesterday at Hickam Air Force Base, Gracie Wilkerson, David Lange, Deshea Wood and Brion Vannucci, front row, waited with their gear for their classified orders. Participants helped the military assess its preparedness for various emergency situations.

Hickam tests impart
a measure of reality

The exercises gauge military
readiness in the face of a threat

By Gregg K. Kakesako

More than 3,100 personnel at Hickam Air Force Base are undergoing three days of tests this week as the military base evaluates its ability to meet its wartime mission.

Known as an Initial Response Readiness Exercise, this semiannual test began yesterday with a series of wartime scenarios that involve even Hickam's 1,316 civilian workers, who make up nearly half of the installation's force.

Maj. Steven Clutter, 15th Air Base Wing spokesman, said a command post has been established at the 2,850-acre military facility and that various scenarios, such as bomb threats and security breaches at its gates, are run to help commanders evaluate Hickam's operations.

Yesterday, during one part of the exercise, reporters were allowed to watch as members of Hickam's security force prepared to leave Hawaii.

Tech. Sgt. Steven Nielsen, flight commander of the 26-member security team, said planning and preparation is even more important now as America continues its war against terrorism.

"We're the first line of defense wherever we go. We're always at the initial entry points to any base, and it's our job to stop anyone from entering," said Nielsen, a 17-year Air Force veteran.

All Hickam personnel have a large flight bag that has been packed with personal items, cold weather gear and chemical protection gear, stored in base warehouses. They also are supposed to have maintained a personnel file that includes current emergency and financial data, immunizations, a will and other vital records.

To ensure that all this information is current, a deployment processing unit was set up, and the security team members had to review their personnel files at seven stations.

"These people help to make our job easier. We just have to come in and sign for our bags, and we're on our way," said Nielsen.

If an airman was missing a shot, he was given one right on the spot. If he did not have his dog tags, a pair was stamped out for him. Then the unit had to draw their flight bags and return to the briefing room to get up-to-date information on the threats in the region where they were being sent.

Capt. Richard Macalino, 15th Air Base Wing evaluation team chief, said that sometimes these exercises go as far as taking the airmen out to waiting transport planes, although the aircraft never take off.

Everything is done to make this test realistic, Clutter said. "We try to create the fog and friction of war."

In the event of war, Hickam, which is the home of Pacific Air Forces headquarters and the 15th Air Base Wing, is expected to provide the critical air bridge to the western Pacific. The major responsibility of the 15th Wing is to provide maintenance and refueling for aircraft that will stop at Hickam after leaving the mainland.

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