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Base exercises keep Laughlin Airmen prepared for potential mishap

Airman Brittany Zipperian assists Airman 1st Class Daud Mohamad with a face mask during the Scarlet Hawk Exercise 17-03 at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 6, 2017. While in the search and recovery phase of the exercise, the team donned personal protective gear, which would protect them from blood-borne pathogens. Both Zipperian and Mohamd are members of the 47th Force Support Squadron.

Airman Brittany Zipperian assists Airman 1st Class Daud Mohamad with a face mask during the Scarlet Hawk Exercise 17-03 at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 6, 2017. While in the search and recovery phase of the exercise, the team donned personal protective gear, which would protect them from blood-borne pathogens. Both Zipperian and Mohamd are members of the 47th Force Support Squadron.

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

“Murphy’s Law” is an old adage that suggests if there’s an opportunity for something to go wrong it can, and it will – and the Air Force is not immune.         

The inspector general’s office plans and executes base wide exercises, codenamed Scarlet Hawk, to test Laughlin Airmen at every level and ability to respond to a crisis. From aircraft mishaps, to active shooters or natural disasters, it’s the task of all Airmen to be ready at a moment’s notice.

"We push the units by providing a scenario to exercise given objectives that test the knowledge and abilities of Laughlin Airmen,” said Capt. Casey McKenzie, 47th Flying Training Wing investigator general office, wing exercise chief. “We have a crawl-walk-run approach with the Scarlet Hawk exercises with the intent of a natural progression in understanding, starting at unit [and] function level training, tabletop exercise, followed by an operational exercise."

As a recent example, Scarlet Hawk 17-03 tested the wing’s ability to respond to an aircraft mishap. From the initial call until the end of the scenario, Laughlin units tested their ability to react in a moment’s notice.

“Exercises are meant to test the readiness of a unit and its personnel,” said Tech. Sgt. Stetson Blankenship, 47th FTW command post, NCO in charge, command and control operations. “The readiness to rapidly deploy or the ability to respond to any imaginable scenario can be tested in an exercise. Specifically, exercises test how well organizations on base work together and respond to a situation.”

Although these exercises might seem like a tedious and burdensome chore, they are one of the best ways to prepare Laughlin for crises and responses that require attention.

“The exercises prepare personnel for the worst situations while making them work through them,” said Blankenship. “They give base personnel the tools to go into real world situations with knowledge and experience. It’s always better to go into a real world situation with some experience rather than none at all.”

Preparation for crisis response is similar to working out. People use physical exercise to build muscle memory, to improve their reflex abilities, and to remain fit. Base exercises are much the same.

 “The exercises can be compared to physical exercise in that the more you practice something, the better you get at it,” said Robert Lindt, 47th Civil Engineer Squadron, chief of readiness and emergency management installation emergency manager. “When you train, you’re putting that muscle memory into effect. For example, the fire department puts out a fire every quarter. If they do that enough, it becomes a natural response so that when they have to respond to an actual fire, they just do it. The wing has to do the same thing.”

The units need to train to remain mentally fit and prepared for crisis, even though the majority of the time, life carries on like normal.

“The Scarlet Hawk exercises are necessary because when you have plans which are written to address responses to specific threats, you have to test those plans,” said Lindt. “For example, we have a threat of aircraft incidents. Knowing this, a plan is formulated. The plan may appear good on paper, but we have to ensure the plan will work in real time. This is where the exercises come into effect. Exercises allow us to take the plan and execute it. The outcome will either validate the plan, or it will show us something we may have missed.”

As evidence these exercises are effective, Laughlin experienced an incident in which the actual mishap was very similar to a recent exercise.

“About two or three months prior to our last aircraft incident out in Bracketville, we had an exercise near that location,” said Lindt. “It was one of those situations where what we did in the exercise was almost the same as what we did for the real world event. It reinforced everything we did for the real world event.”

In the end, Laughlin Airmen cannot prevent bad things from happening, but they can be prepared for when those situations arise.

Base exercises are conducted every quarter because the possibility of Murphy’s Law is a lingering threat. There is no way to know when a tornado will strike, to predict an active shooter or whether an aircraft will crash. But, Laughlin’s active response is to be prepared for when crisis occur – not if they occur.