Exercise Ozark Thunder 20-01: Developing combat-ready Airmen

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  • 442d Fighter Wing Public Affairs

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo.-- During November’s extended Unit Training Assembly, Airmen from the 442d Fighter Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo, participated in a 3-day long readiness exercise, Exercise Ozark Thunder 20-01.

Exercise Ozark Thunder involved more than 600 Airmen and tested their abilities to survive and sustain operations in a worst-case combat scenario.

Col.Greg Eckfeld, the Inspector General for the 442d Fighter Wing, with his IG team created the scenarios and assessed the wing’s readiness.

“We developed scenarios with a harder opponent in mind,” said Eckfeld. “We wanted to test our readiness against an opponent with similar capabilities and maybe even weapons of mass destruction.”

The exercise kicked off at 8 a.m. on Sunday, November 3. Within the hour, the command and control team sounded an alarm and announced a missile attack was inbound over the public address system.

Information passed through the squadrons over radios as Airmen began taking cover under desks or in their designated shelter areas. At times, some simulations required Airmen to perform self-aid buddy care, don appropriate chemical and biological protective equipment, and complete post-attack checklists that included identifying simulated unexploded ordinances.

“My role was to do my job as normal and then when I hear an alarm go off, head to the bunker,” said Senior Airman Noah Keys, an aircraft armament system specialist with the 442d Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “We knew what we should do and how to do it when we needed to despite not doing this type of training a lot.”

In 2017, the maintenance and operation groups performed a small-scale readiness exercise to prepare for this large exercise that, in addition to maintenance and operations, also included the mission support group and medical squadron. Before that, 2010-2011 marked the last wing-wide readiness assessment.

“The more we can expose Airmen to some these challenging scenarios, get them comfortable with wearing the chemical warfare defense ensemble, and knowing some of their readiness skills they’re going to have to put to use the better they’re going to be,” said Eckfeld.

For members newer to the Air Force, this likely was their first experience wearing their chemical protective gear outside of basic training. For the more experienced members, this assessment allowed them to refresh their memories on the proper readiness procedures.

“It’s always better to be prepared and not use it, than need to and have no idea what to do,” said Keys. “It’s good for all levels of rank. It’s a good refresher for someone who hasn’t put a gas mask on in a long time.”

Many Airmen worked 12-hour shifts, ate meals ready-to-eat and sustained attack response actions for multiple hours on end as members from the 442d IG and wing inspection team assessed how well they performed their mission essential tasks. Observers from 10th Air Force and Air Force Reserve Command ensured the IG and WIT performed fair inspections.

“The observers were really impressed with the work ethic, attitude and professionalism in the 442d,” said Eckfeld.

“EndEx” or “end of exercise” rang out over the public address system right before 2 p.m. on Tuesday, November 5. Final exercise results will transpire after a series of after-action discussions and evaluations of the data gathered during the 3-day exercise.

Despite the long hours and rigorous training, Airmen kept their spirits high. “People had good attitudes,” said Keys. “They didn’t gripe about it; they just did what they had to do.”