Active training preserves life
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- BOOM, BOOM, BOOM ... shots rang out in rapid succession as the simulated shooter moved through the halls of Edgren High School here with a shotgun.
The giant voice system delivered active shooter warning messages to members across the base as 35th Security Forces Squadron patrolmen navigated past the simulated dead and wounded students in pursuit of the shooter.
While this was an Active Shooter Emergency Management Exercise, the scene was a realistic scenario of what first responders may have to face, according to Master Sgt. William Newcomb, 35th Security Forces Squadron NCO in charge of training.
Unlike most scenarios Security Forces members train for, a shooting incident requires defenders to get through the doors as soon as possible to eliminate the threat. Doing so increases the likelihood of preserving life, rather than setting up a corridon and waiting, Newcomb said.
"As the first responders, we don't have all the information going in, like how many shooters or the number of people in there," said Senior Airman Joseph Guy, 35th Security Forces Squadron patrolmen. "A lot of stuff races through your mind, but I can't stop or freeze to think about them. That could cause someone else to lose their life, so we have to rely on our training."
This was the first Wing-level active shooter exercise here this year, but the security forces squadron practices this scenario quite a bit. Airmen are put through a three-day course which consists of multiple scenarios at different schools on base, according to Newcomb.
"When I first arrived on scene, there were people on the ground hurt and dying ... I remember asking myself 'what was going on?'" Guy said. "I'm not going to lie; it was a little scary because you don't know what's going to happen. It was a gruesome scene which looked realistic, but I had to block it out."
This is one of the goals of the training, to give responders the visualization. Although fake blood and actors will never replicate a real world incident, NCOs like Newcomb want his Security Forces members to understand when responding to a school shooting, their job is the mission at hand. Especially if they are a parent with a child in the school, they need to be able to focus and eliminate the threat in order to prevent the loss of other children or teachers.
"This happened out of the blue, but it's one of those things that we have to prepare and know the gameplan for," Guy said. "With the shooter on the loose and many dark corners the gunman can hide in, we just relied on our training. Our primary goal is to neutralize the threat."
As for the NCO of training, Newcomb is glad to know his Airmen are taking the tools and the tactics given to them and applying them accordingly.
"I'm hoping they learn this is a very fluid incident and things change very rapidly. They need to be ready to react and respond to those changes in a timely manner in order to preserve life," Newcomb said. "My Airmen responded phenomenally -- they got in and eliminated the shooter. From the start of the incident to apprehending the shooter was approximately 3 1/2 minutes."
Since the shooting incident at Fort Hood, Texas, where 13 were killed and more than 30 wounded, base agencies other than Security Forces members are also playing a part in this exercise to provide aid to base members.
Medical first responders were also evaluated, while the 35th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Departments and Security Forces formed an on-scene command center and entry control point in order to relay real time information as well as control the entry and departure of key personnel.
The Airmen and Family Readiness Center stood up their Emergency Family Assistance Center, a key location for family members seeking information on loved ones. The 35th Fighter Wing Chapel, American Red Cross, 35th Medical Group Mental Health and 35 FW Public Affairs were also in attendance to provide comfort or to deliver key messages to the base audience and community population.
Even though Misawa and the surrounding community is low threat, and weapons are hard to come by in Japan, this training is still relevant as base members are allowed personal shotguns on base. As soon as one's guard is down and they think something like this is not possible, that's when it happens, Newcomb said.
"The world is a dangerous place and you'd never know who the active shooter is or who they have a grudge against," said Newcomb. "A person could be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This can happen not only in a work center, restaurants or our daily environment; you could be the one who saves your family's lives by telling them to get down, take cover or run to the nearest exit.
"For those who do not take these exercises seriously, watch the news, he continued. The number of active-shooter incidents is rising and this is becoming a reality of life. We always prepare for the worst, but hope for the best."