Fla. Air National Guard trains for chemical warfare

Author: Hailey Winslow, General assignment reporter, hwinslow@wjxt.com
Published On: Feb 27 2014 04:51:56 PM EST   Updated On: Feb 27 2014 07:33:25 PM EST
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

They're in the Pacific. The entire base has been hit by chemical weapons, and it's the duty of the airmen to defend against attack.

That's the scenario the Florida Air National Guard's 125th Fighter Wing is simulating as part of its required training.

"The nation counts on us to be ready. So we have to train like this," Col. Brian Simpler said. "This is something we do frequently: training for combat. It's our No. 1 priority when we're not doing a real-world mission like homeland defense or serving in a state mission."

Airmen put on gear and gas masks, getting into what's called Mission Oriented Protective Posture, or MOPP, 4 ready.

Then they get the jets ready.

"Our F15s are launching to provide air superiority over the base and defending the base against any air attack," Simpler said.

Inside a shop on base, airmen prepare the pilots, packing parachutes and teaching them water survival skills they would need if their jets go down.

"Right now we have a scenario where our entire base has been hit by chemical warfare, and so now we have pilots that need to get flight equipment to go on the second mission, but we have it (the equipment) outside in our bin," said Senior Airman William Newman. "So we're trying to formulate a plan to where we can get it out as quickly as possible and not bring the contaminants back in our shop."

Mission accomplished. Now it's time to taxi to the runway.

The F15s take off. It's routine training, but they want to make sure they're always mission-ready to deploy and ready in the right equipment. Sometimes they have to wear gas masks for hours to protect against a chemical threat.

"It's hot, it's sweaty, but it is what it is," Newman said. "Everybody knows what they signed up for to do what they need to do and be ready when they need to be ready."

In a real-life situation, these airmen have 9 seconds to put a gas mask on and then 15 seconds to finish putting the rest of the gear on.

"The Florida Air National Guard has the finest airmen in the entire United States Air Force," Simpler said. "We've been part of the Jacksonville community since 1947. I'm extremely proud of these airmen, and they contribute a lot to our nation's defense."