Air Force Expanding Chemical Warfare Training in Pacific

SSgt. Sean Douglas, left, and SrA. Kirkie Hampton, both 51st Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters, review the Airman’s Manual before responding to simulated injured personnel during Exercise Beverly Herd 17-1 at Osan AB, South Korea, Feb. 28, 2017. Medical and civil engineer personnel tested how well first-responders could treat and evacuate decontaminated victims during a real-world chemical attack. Air Force photo by TSgt. Ashley Tyler.

USAF will now be preparing more airmen for chemical warfare than in the past, with a specific focus on a Korean conflict, said USAF’s top enlisted senior leader.

At the moment, airmen deploying to Korea go through Ability To Survive and Operate, or ATSO, training which teaches them what to do before and after an attack, such as Self Aid Buddy Care training, and how to identify various alarm signals and unexploded ordnance.

But CMSAF Kaleth Wright wants to expand that training beyond Korea.

“We got out of the business of doing that training until you actually got to the Peninsula,” Wright told Air Force Magazine during a Sept. 14 interview at the Pentagon. “Well, now there’s a concerted effort to make sure folks who may deploy to not just Korea but anywhere in the Pacific—based on the threat—that they have that type of training.”

North Korea launched its second ballistic missile over northern Japan on Sept. 14. The missile flew about 2,300 miles, which also is roughly the same distance? from North Korea to Guam. The launch—the third over Japanese territory in less than a month—was the first since the United Nations implemented new sanctions on the country following its sixth nuclear test. It comes after the North Korean state news agency released a statement threatening to sink the “four islands of the [Japanese] archipelago … into the sea by the nuclear bomb of Juche,” reported CNN.

The bold moves have military and political leaders discussing the possibility of military action if diplomacy ultimately fails, and though ATSO training used to be prevalent outside active theaters, Wright said, “over the years, we let it atrophy.”

However, he noted that, “Most of our bases are already capable of providing this training,” but they’ve had to shift resources elsewhere. That means reinstituting ATSO won’t cost too much money and will increase airmen’s capabilities—an attractive solution to one of the service’s many readiness shortfalls, Wright said.

“Although we have some challenges with manning, we have to be really, really smart about what we do, why we do it, and where we do it,” Wright said.

“If we have to go to war in the Pacific—really anywhere other than the Middle East, where we’ve been for the last 16 years—we’d have to take risk,” he said, though he couldn’t elaborate, citing classification.

Regardless, Wright acknowledged “the scenario could be—without the rhetoric and all the things bubbling in the background—… Korea,” adding that he wants to be sure “airmen have the right training that they need to be able to execute that.”