TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Under a thick coat, pants, cotton and rubber gloves, cumbersome boot covers, a tightly pulled hood, a gas mask and a hot sun was Airman Lizette O. Whitter, 60th Comptroller Squadron customer service support administrator.
Whitter, a new Airman assigned to Travis Air Force Base, California, was completing her Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear defense training on a day that she said was “hotter than what’s ideal for walking around in Mission-Oriented Protected Posture gear,” the uniform necessary for the hands-on portion of the training.
“When I did the training, it was sweltering,” said Whitter. “I was sweating so much that I remember pulling my mask off and it was as if my face had melted into it. But the 60th Civil Engineer Squadron here does its best to make it as real as possible. The sweat is just a part of being able to handle these types of situations when and where they happen.”
Whitter was one of many Airmen performing their annual CBRN defense training in September. Tech. Sgt. Donovan G. Root, 60th CES NCO in charge of Emergency Management logistics, was her instructor.
“CBRN is one of those things that people don’t believe will happen to them until it does,” said Root. “Complacency is something that occurs not only state-side, but also in deployed locations where CBRN has been used in the past. Awareness is one of those things we try to instill in class by motivating people and saying ‘Hey, [CBRN] can be used, it has been used, it is dangerous and it’s only getting worse.’”
According to The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, as of October 2016, 5,502 metric tons of chemical agent are still declared within the worldwide community.
Despite CBRN warfare being banned by the international community under the Geneva Protocol of 1925, Root says not everyone follows the rules.
“The insurgents we’ve been facing over the past 13-14 years, they don’t follow the Geneva Conventions,” said Root. “They don’t care about using weapons of mass destruction. They don’t care about crimes against humanity or war crimes. So they will gladly use this stuff. That’s why we need this annual training to research, train and test this equipment in the event it’s ever used against us.”
For Root, the matter of CBRN defense goes further than personal safety. In order to rapidly project American power, aircrews need to be able to land, take off and maintain a presence in a contaminated environment.
“The mission doesn’t stop just because you do,” said Root. “We need to train to keep the mission going no matter the environment we find ourselves in.”
Despite the heat, sweat, gas mask and heavy clothing, Whitter is a firm believer in the necessity of the training and the good it does for Team Travis and the U.S. Air Force.
“It’s for our own good,” said Whitter. “It’s beneficial in the long run, so you’re not just sitting there throwing your hands in the air when the actual situation happens—when you actually have to be in the gear. At the end of the day, it’s free knowledge and it goes a long way in helping if that worst case scenario were to happen.”
That’s a scenario Root works every day to help people confront and be ready for. Having been assigned to locations where CBRN defense was tested in a real, practical environment, he knows what it means to use his training to preserve the mission and help keep people out of harm’s way.
“Even as an apprentice, emergency managers have gone through extensive training to be an asset to commanders in chemical environments,” said Root. “We’re the ones to identify and detect the agents to tell commanders what problems they can expect, where to expect them and how long that problem may be present. Our assessment can mean the lives of the people we’re responsible for and we go through the training to be prepared for that responsibility.”
In addition to emergency managers being so rigorously trained, Travis has the unique ability to host a Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training-qualified NCO in each CBRN class that’s conducted on base.
“This allows us to ensure everything is done correctly and to the standard that is not only needed, but that we set above what is merely required,” said Root. “It definitely speaks volumes of the office that we have here and of the quality of the training Travis is committed to providing its Airmen.”
Providing that training really came down to the emergency manager office’s willingness to put in long hours, Root said.
Over the course of the two weeks of training, the emergency managers offered classes designed to be more accessible to maintainers and shift workers with start times as early as 3:30 a.m. and as late as 9 p.m.
“For Travis, with the standards that we have here, teaching the amount of Airmen that we did was, I think, a great accomplishment,” said Root. “Being only one of 12 instructors helping out in these classes, the way our emergency management team as a whole stepped up to make this training happen made the experience not only possible and fun, but rewarding knowing we were helping out the wing.”