Senior Airman Joanna Bedgood, 442nd Medical Squadron, takes care of the bookwork while under mission-oriented-protection-posture-level-four conditions during September 2008's unit training assembly operational readiness exercise. The 442nd FW is an Air Force Reserve Command A-10 Thunderbolt II unit based at Whiteman Air Force Bace, Mo. (US Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kent Kagarise).
A member of the 442nd Medical Squadron takes off his chemical, biological, nuclear-protection gear during an operational readiness exercise at the 442nd Fighter Wing, Sept. 7, 2008. The wing is an Air Force Reserve unit based at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Master Sgt. Bill Huntington and Staff Sgt. Kent Kagarise)
by Staff Sgt. Kent Kagarise
442nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
9/23/2008 - WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- EXERCISE! EXERCISE! EXERCISE! The 442nd Medical Squadron huddled around the hand-held radio like an old-time family would cling to a Zenith stratosphere floor-model radio as they hinged on every last word of a fire-side chat.
Moans and groans were heard as the voice distributed the "bad" news to the weary listeners. The base attack and recovery tracking system had been updated and the medical squadron was at mission oriented protective posture level four, also known as - MOPP 4.
One hour later, the squadron was still sitting in a bunker. Many of the Airmen lounged as if on a beach as they attempted to fool themselves into believing they were comfortable. Others stared intently forward like Buddhist priests in deep meditation, attempting to remove themselves from the moment. No matter the rank, the common denominator for all was the anticipation it might soon be over.
It seemed the charcoal prison doors of the MOPP suit would never open. The fogged-up lenses resembled the hazy September sky; sweat-filled gloves wrinkled fingers like raisins; something usually effortless like breathing became a chore and the confines of the mask were beginning to seem like bars separating the Airmen from the free world.
Eventually BARTS was updated and the expected freedom was granted. The bunker members came out of MOPP-level-4 much like a pearl diver would emerge from a deep sea dive - with a gasp.
No matter the branch of service, reacting to a chemical attack is some of the most mentally-challenging training.
Maj. Ed Cullumber, 442nd Medical Squadron, and a prior service Army Soldier said, "It was very good training. We were in MOPP 4 a little longer than I expected. Even in the Army I had never spent an hour and a half at MOPP 4."
Airmen may understand the importance of training for chemical warfare but could possibly wonder about the extensive length of time spent in MOPP 4.
"The entire experience was trying," Maj. Cullumber said. "The worst part was simply functioning at that level. It's one thing to be knowledgeable on how to wear the protective gear but it's a whole different thing to attain a comfort level that allows you to accomplish the mission.
"When you are under a real chemical attack, with a mission in front of you it is not the time to be seeking familiarization and comfort with MOPP 4," he said.
While Americans were uniting around the opening week of college football on a Saturday afternoon, Airmen here were bonding through Nuclear Biological and Chemical training.
"Everybody was ready for the training," Major Cullumber said. "We knew what was expected of us and became more adaptable throughout the weekend. Relationships were built through a difficult experience and it helped build esprit décor."
Throughout September's UTA Airmen may have thought of a plethora of places they would rather be than in MOPP 4. Sunday evening Whiteman Air Force Base would be in their rear view mirrors, a smile on their faces, The Airman's Manual on their minds and the trail to mission readiness at MOPP 4 at their feet.