Readiness or death: AFE trains to save lives

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jarad A. Denton
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Imagine, a B-1B Lancer aircrew has just stepped from their aircraft and onto a chemically contaminated flightline; they're mentally and physically exhausted, and after their 14-hour mission the last thing they want is to be wrapped in a trash bag and rushed to a decon line.

While this example is fictitious, the risks to the aircrew are very real - and are met with equally realistic training by the aircrew flight equipment shop.

The AFE Airmen have been practicing scenarios like this by setting up simulated decontamination lines designed to hone their skills for the upcoming operational readiness inspection, Oct. 12 to 18. The ORI is designed to test Airmen on their job performance and skills in a simulated-deployed environment. The AFE shop has been practicing to ensure aircrews receive realistic training, which may one day save their lives.

The AFE Airmen set up the entire processing station from the back of a mobile container in 21 minutes. Once set, they waited in their mission oriented protective posture gear to start the decontamination line. After reviewing the procedures required at each individual station.

"We try to shoot for a set-up time under 30 minutes," said Master Sgt. Joseph Rust, 28th Operations Support Squadron AFE flight chief. "We train twice a month normally with the aircrews to ensure everything we do is smooth. Lately, we've been training every week to ensure we are ready for the ORI."

AFE Airmen begin by first removing the aircrew's plastic "trash bags" - which serves as an initial barrier against contaminants. The aircrew then faces the business end of a decontamination hose - which washes away more of the contaminants. The process continues at the next station with a strong pat-down from AFE Airmen wearing decon gloves. After the pat-down, aircrew Airmen are instructed to slowly and carefully remove their gear, one piece at a time. If they move too fast, or drop any of their gear, it could agitate and throw off some of the contaminants - which could then cross-contaminate the AFE Airmen.

Capt. Todd Patterson, 28th Bomb Wing AFE officer, said the AFE Airmen train diligently to ensure perfection during this process. This line wasn't part of an exercise or inspection for them - it was life or death, with no mistakes allowed.

Sergeant Rust said one of the biggest challenges AFE must face is the diversity of graded items in their shop. They maintain combat operations support, gear inspection and walk with the aircrew to the B-1, in case of a chemical attack. All of these functions are done in addition to standing up a decontamination line on a moment's notice in case of aircrew chemical contamination.

"The steps we take are slow and purposeful," Sergeant Rust said. "The safety of the aircrew is our primary concern."

As aircrew Airmen process through the line they are constantly reminded that safety is their chief concern. At every station, the aircrew is asked how they are feeling, and their responses are measured to ensure they aren't suffering any effects of chemical contamination.

"If this were a real-world situation, we would have medical personnel standing by in case of an emergency," said Sergeant Rust.

Each station requires the aircrew to slowly and methodically remove either equipment or clothing. The Airmen who process them are each dressed in full MOPP gear, in order to guard against any cross-contamination. The aircrew is also reminded at each station what Captain Patterson had said before the process began.

"Make sure you follow their instructions to the letter," he said. "Don't anticipate anything."

Whether being sprayed down to neutralize contaminants, or patted with special, disposable decon pads, the aircrew is encouraged to trust their fate to these Airmen. Sergeant Rust said the AFE shop places professionalism, attention to detail and job-knowledge forefront in the performance of their duties.

Even though this was a simulated exercise, done for the purpose of ORI preparation, the weight of responsibility placed on each AFE Airman is as heavy as the gear worn by the aircrew. Exercise or real-world, the B-1 aircrew entrusts their lives to the AFE Airmen, who train tenaciously to ensure the crew isn't let down.