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128 ARW conducts emergency response exercise

Captain Mike Fortmann of the 128th Air Refueling Wing Fire Department, Milwaukee, WI communicates with headquarters via a handheld radio during a training exercise at the 128th ARW on 2010 March 06. The exercise simulated a chemical spill where the fire department was called to investigate and report their findings. Air Force photo submitted by SSgt Jeremy Wilson / Released

Captain Mike Fortmann of the 128th Air Refueling Wing Fire Department, Milwaukee, WI communicates with headquarters via a handheld radio during a training exercise at the 128th ARW on 2010 March 06. The exercise simulated a chemical spill where the fire department was called to investigate and report their findings. Air Force photo submitted by SSgt Jeremy Wilson / Released

MILWAUKEE --  As the sun rose on a chilly Saturday morning in March, two security forces team members paid vigilant attention at the front gate of the Gen. Mitchell Air National Guard base.

A silent procession of three emergency response vehicles was outbound from the base. The veneer of professionalism was evident on the Guardsmen's faces.

Lying on the side of the base-access road, near Grange Ave., were two abandoned 55-gallon drums leaking clear fluids.

The 128th Air Refueling Wing conducted the above situation as an emergency response exercise at 9:00 a.m. on March 6, 2010.

"We are required to have two terrorist-use Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive exercises every year," said Staff Sgt. Nathan Thrun, the emergency management program director.

The exercise involved the 128 ARW's Security Forces Squadron and fire department, Thrun said. He said the goal of the exercise was to examine the 128 ARW's ability to be a first responder in an emergency response situation, which allowed the exercise to exclude a majority of the base.

"In this instance, city personnel were only notified," Thrun said. In a real-world situation, the 128 ARW emergency response team would secure and cordon the affected areas until a city HAZMAT team took control of the situation, he said.

The scenario for the exercise involved a mentally-unbalanced terrorist who used two separate chemicals in the 55-gallon drums to create a potentially deadly mixture, Thrun said.

"These are over-the-shelf items," Thrun said. "If someone bad wanted to use this, all he had to do was mix them."

Such a scenario highlights the reality that not all terrorist actions will involve complex weapons or carefully-planned attacks. Though this situation was an exercise, the threat for such an attack does exist.

"This was an incident of someone being smart enough to make this stuff, but not smart enough to appreciate his choices," Thrun said.

Such exercises also have real-world applications for the 128 ARW.

"Continuing to practice like this can ensure that we can meet these threats," Thrun said. "I know doing this helps us better prepare for it."