McChord Airmen survive Winterhook, improve readiness

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Tryphena Mayhugh
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

More than 100 Airmen assigned to the 62nd Airlift Wing and 627th Air Base Group participated in Exercise Winterhook at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, from Jan. 22 to 26.

Winterhook was a two-phase readiness exercise designed to test Team McChord’s Airmen’s ability to survive and operate in a chemically or biologically contaminated environment.

Throughout the exercise, the Airmen wore mission oriented protective posture gear (MOPP), which is protective gear used by U.S. military personnel in a toxic environment, such as during a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) strike.

“The purpose of this exercise is to take a look at the skills an Airman should have when we go into a CBRN environment,” said Capt. Anthony Hertach, Exercise Winterhook director and 62nd Maintenance Squadron operations officer. “It’s really making sure we possess that capability and we’re ready for the next theater war and any threat that can be thrown at us.”

During Phase I, Airmen were tasked to deploy in a scenario, while Phase II tested Airmen on their ability to complete their day-to-day tasks and continue the fight during a chemical threat.

“We know there is a threat out there, but being in [finance] we don’t always see that,” said Airman 1st Class James Cortez, Exercise Winterhook player and 62nd Comptroller Squadron budget analyst. “Being in the MOPP gear and face mask really puts it in perspective what’s out there.”

The Airmen participating in Winterhook were not only inspected by an internal team, but the Air Mobility Command Inspector General (AMC IG) watched how Team McChord responded to the threat.

“We are setting the standard for the command because we are the very first the AMC IG has visited to assess how we’re going to move forward,” said Lt. Col. Barry Flack, 62nd Maintenance Group deputy commander and wing readiness officer. “That’s one thing we have been trying to impart on our Airmen: They are setting the standard. No other wing or organization can say that, so I think it’s really important and Airmen should be proud of that.”

The mission of Team McChord is to provide rapid global mobility and exercises such as Winterhook provide the training to enhance Airmen’s skill sets to operate in any condition.

“Without the ability to operate in a chemical or other environment, if we go to a theater of war we may not be able to fulfill our mission in certain areas,” Hertach said. “Ensuring that capability exists is how we continue to provide rapid global mobility as the 62nd AW and 627th ABG.”

The Airmen participating in the exercise were inspected for their ability to properly don their MOPP gear, perform their duties in their gear and administer self-aid and buddy care on simulated injured wingmen during a chemical attack.

“I hope the Airmen will take away that this is important, this is something we need to be thinking about,” Hertach said. “It is something that probably hasn’t been on the forefront of many people’s minds for the last decade as we have been fighting terrorists. This is a very real threat and we need to understand how it effects our mission and what we can do to make our capabilities better so we can better accomplish the mission.”

The measure of merit learned from Exercise Winterhook will be learning what Team McChord Airmen don’t know and apply that as they move forward, Flack said.

“I think success will be knowing where our shortfalls are and where we can improve,” Hertach agreed. “I believe we will see those areas and we will move forward on them and make the wing better.”

A key objective is building confidence in Airmen’s ability to achieve their mission while wearing MOPP gear, which includes protective clothing, gloves and a gas mask.

“I think we’re building confidence in our skill sets,” Flack said. “We’re training, validating, and exercising to ensure we get this repetition down because we want this to become second nature to them. Not only to be able to do their job, but to be able to build the confidence to do their job in certain threat environments.”

Having confidence and building muscle memory in putting on MOPP gear not only makes it easier for Airmen to fulfill their duties, but can also save lives when there is a limited amount of time before the equipment needs to be on properly.

“When the alarm went off and we had to put our gas masks on, you could tell a few people were not as confident,” Cortez said. “They were looking around seeing what everyone else was doing and you only have so much time to put that mask on before something happens. It’s super important everyone knows exactly what they’re doing.”

Exercise Winterhook was a collaborative effort between everyone on McChord Field.

“When we’re talking about readiness, it’s a total Team McChord effort between the 62nd AW and 627th ABG, and it’s done very well,” Flack said. “Captain Anthony Hertach has done an excellent job in planning this exercise.”

Team McChord is planning another exercise in April to continue to grow and strengthen their skills to provide rapid global mobility for the Air Force.