BIRMINGHAM, Ala. --
Airmen from the 117th Air Refueling Wing participated in Ability to Survive and Operate training here on July 22.
ATSO provides a foundation for Airmen to survive chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive attacks and conduct mission essential operations in environments that have been exposed to any of the agents.
“This training replicates conditions where fatalities are likely,” said Senior Master Sgt. Richard Bailey, Installation Emergency Manager, 117th Civil Engineering Squadron. “We don’t just train on the wear of protective gear, but incorporate the wingman concept as an added layer of protection to ensure protective gear is worn securely.”
Airmen must don a chemical suit, gas mask, over boots and gloves and check one another for the proper wear of the suit and mask. They also aid each other in hydration and assist one another with decontaminating personnel and equipment and test for the presence of chemical agents.
Post Attack Reconnaissance teams use testing paper to check for the presence of any toxic agents in the area. In a real-world situation these teams assist in getting the mission at peak operational capacity by testing certain sectors of the area of operation to evaluate if toxic agents are present. They communicate the results to the command center. A determination is made for the proper level of chemical gear for airmen to wear in each sector to safely fulfill mission requirements.
The more protective measures needed to conduct operations, the less efficient operations become. These teams are vital to accurately evaluate conditions and getting operations safe and efficient, building back up to regular operation capacity. They also are trained on how to look for unexploded ordnance as well as cordon responsibilities.
With the Air Force standard expected amount of time from warning to attack, muscle memory plays an important role in surviving a real encounter of any chemical or material attack.
“We don’t want to have Airmen get injured and this training builds muscle memory and practice in case something does happen,” said Senior Airman Zachary Cates, Emergency Manager, 117th Civil Engineering Squadron.
ATSO training is mandatory for all base personnel and must be conducted every 18 months. Among other topics covered in classroom and practical exercises are self-aid and buddy care, splints and wound dressing, in environments with agents present.
“This is a skillset people don’t use every day,” said Bailey. “The training provides Airmen hands-on experience with functions they do not use on a significant basis as part of their everyday job tasks.”