News

Controlling chaos one aspect of survival recovery center

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- A mortar loaded with deadly chemicals has just slammed into a building at an air base, creating a raging inferno shrouded in toxic gas.
Preliminary reports don’t look so good. The building that was struck contains supplies necessary to pull-off the base’s mission. If the supplies burn with the building, the chances of successfully completing the mission are slim-to-none.
It’s your call – what do you do?
Keep in mind, there is no extra information available, nor is there time to gather it. Thinking for too long may jeopardize the fate of the entire mission, while being spontaneous may cost the lives of the firefighters dispatched to salvage the supplies. No matter what your decision, there will be irrevocable consequences.
Obviously, it’s not the easiest decision to reach, which is why few people would envy what four Reservists from the 446th Mission Support Group will be doing during the Operational Readiness Inspection in June. The scenario mentioned above is just one of many that the Airmen will face while manning the Survival Recovery Center during the inspection.
“Basically, we will coordinate all alarm conditions and FP (force protection) conditions if we get attacked,” said Maj. William Pelster, a member of the SRC team. “We’re responsible for getting the wing back into the detailing how to continue to fight once we’ve been slimed.”
The SRC recommends force protection changes, mission-oriented protective posture changes, and also mans the “giant voice.” Basing their decisions off of intelligence reports, the SRC team recommends a course of action to the Wing Operations Center, where it is reviewed by the installation commander. About 99 percent of the time, their recommendations are implemented, Major Pelster said. Usually the only time the WOC will override the recommendation of the SRC is when a priority mission has to launch.
Reservists from the 446th AW will integrate with Airmen from the two other wings participating in the inspection ¬- the 62nd AW here and the 319th Air Refueling Wing, Grand Forks, N.D. There will be between 12 and 16 people working at the SRC who must band together and make difficult decisions within minutes of receiving initial intelligence reports or during an attack.
As can be imagined, there are an infinite number of scenarios that can be thrown their way.
Major Pelster, who estimates he has participated in more than a dozen ORIs in his career, has seen his fair share of weird situations. From what to do when Meals Ready to Eat go bad, to the proper way to handle a conscientious objector, Major Pelster’s on-the-fly cognitive abilities have been tested with every exercise, he said.
“As soon as an inspection kicks-off, we’re always hit with little nuisance scenarios,” Major Pelster said. “Once we got a call that the IG had found a radio someone left unattended. So, we had to recall 100-plus radios, re-key them and give everyone new call signs.”
To aid the Airmen working in the SRC, an intimidating, six-inch thick binder of checklists has been developed during “table-top” exercises, where ORI members “collectively war-game in our heads,” Major Pelster said. This way, decisions that must be made within minutes are easier to reach.
“I come from an old SAC (Strategic Air Command) mentality, where I like to have as many check-listed as possible,” he said.
Heading into the June ORI, the SRC team possesses another ingredient that is key to success: experience. The same team participating in the upcoming exercise also took part in last year’s, where they scored an excellent.
And while it is only an inspection, the team plans on practicing like it is the real thing. “It’s up to us to create a safe environment so we can launch aircraft and continue to fight,” Major Pelster said.