Preparing for the worst
Dozens of bloody bodies were scattered across the rocky ground on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Fire engulfed a plane in the background.
Smoke swept over some victims, so thick they were nearly camouflaged.
A real C-130 didn’t crash, but the scene was meant to create a hectic situation with multiple injuries and fires for base personnel to respond to.
“You need that chaos,” JBER spokesman Maj. Joseph Coslett said. “Without that chaos, you can’t test what you know.”
Only a handful of people — the ones who designed the exercise — knew exactly what simulation would occur Thursday, June 20.
“Having that unknown factor adds reality to the training scenario,” Coslett said.
The installation-wide emergency management exercise covered all facets of the incident: responding to the plane crash, extinguishing multiple fires, treating victims, reporting the incident to the government officials and notifying families.
These types of exercises are conducted about five times a year, Coslett said.
“This is a way to sharpen our skills,” he said.
Emergencies are inherently chaotic, Coslett said, that’s why simulating real-world situations is crucial. It helps create muscle memory, he said.
“When you want to save someone’s life, sometimes you forget,” Coslett said. “That’s why we do this. To make it instinct.”
The exercise is no laughing matter. So for those playing the victims, staying in character is essential, said Tech. Sgt. Steven Henry.
Henry, who had “blood” running down his face from a head wound, said treating the situation as if it were really happening benefits everyone involved.
“They get a sense of realism,” he said.
During a fire, finding survivors and keeping the injured alive is the main concern, said MSgt. Glenn Santos, who was part of the Exercise Evaluation Team.
“Priority No. 1 is always life,” he said. “Safety is always No. 1 as well.”
While firefighters responded to the plane crash, a car fire and smoke emanating from a building, Santos was observing.
He said he was looking for firefighters to cover all the fundamentals. This includes correctly wearing their equipment, the way they approached each incident, hose deployment and how they handled the victims.
These types of emergency exercises are crucial, Santos said.
“Training is key,” he said. “It’s very important to maintain proficiency.”
Distractions are everywhere during large-scale emergencies, said Tech. Sgt. Heather Lewis, who was evaluating first responders. For someone new to the military, learning how to think and focus during such situations cannot be understated, she said.
“Make sure they really remember that,” Lewis said.
Though it was a simulation, emergencies like the staged exercise do happen, Lewis said.
“I’ve been in real situations like this,” she said.
That’s something JBER knows all too well.
Three years ago, a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III aircraft crashed on base during a training mission, killing all four airmen aboard.
Emergency management exercises also benefit troops while they’re overseas, Coslett said.
“We use these skills deployed,” he said. “Saving lives is not just for here.
“You’re training like you fight.”
Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or firstname.lastname@example.org.