Been there, Done that: London

London By the Water

By Staff Sgt. Robbie Arp

Fish and Chips!

There are a million other things to see and do in London, but for me, it was all about the fish and chips.

My wife and I had never been to London. It was a new adventure for both of us.  She was looking forward to the sites, the history, and the shopping.  I was only looking forward to food.

We caught a late flight on Ryan Air out of Frankfurt Hahn (and if you’ve ever tried to find Frankfurt Hahn in the dark, you know it seems like you’re lost. But keep on driving, it’s out there) and arrived at Stansted Airport in England around 11 p.m.  Stansted is a little more than an hour outside of London.

There was an option to take a train that connected to the Tube (London’s Underground Subway) at Liverpool Station, hop around on the Tube for a few stops, and then walk to our hotel a few blocks away from our final stop. But it was nearly midnight by the time we got through security and claimed our luggage.

Side note, don’t check bags with Ryan Air if you’re only going somewhere for a few days. You are allowed a backpack and a small carry-on to go with you onto the plane.  Save some money, travel light. We opted for a car service that would take us directly to our hotel.  But take note, this was a seriously expensive option.  It cost one hundred and fifteen pounds.  That equals about $180.  A more cost effective option would have been to take the trains.  I told myself we were paying for peace of mind.  Now that the trip is over, do I still have that peace of mind?  Eh…

Our hotel was a little ways from any of the major attractions. We booked through one of the many online hotel sites and found a pretty affordable option that was also nice.  And even though we were away from the major attractions, transportation wasn’t an issue at all.

London has many bus tours that are “Hop On, Hop Off,” with bus stops scattered in convenient locations all over the city running every 5-15 minutes. Each tour also gives free maps of the city that highlight all the typical tourist spots.  Chances are, no matter where you want to go in London, you’ll be able to get relatively close by using one of these buses.  A 48-hour pass cost 31 pounds ($49), and they run from 10 a.m.- 6 p.m.

London mixLondon is beautiful! Point your camera in any direction (mostly) and you’ve got a pretty decent photo.  There was no shortage of interesting things to see and do.  The bus tours offer live tour guides who are pretty funny and full of knowledge.  We found the city to be completely accessible and friendly.  But I had not yet accomplished what I went there to do.  I was on a mission.

Queen's HeadHidden behind the ruckus of Piccadilly Circus, I found what would become a fond memory. The name of the establishment is The Queen’s Head.  It doubles as a Pub and a restaurant.  My wife and I took one look at the exterior of the building and we knew this was the place.  Finally, some fish and chips!

Fish and ChipsIt was exactly what I wanted. A huge, beer-battered fish filet with some thick cut potato wedges that the British lovingly refer to as chips.  Also on the plate was a scoop of mushy peas.  But please, if you find yourself in a similar situation, try these peas.  I was skeptical at first, but I thought they were awesome after I added a sprinkle of salt.  A friend of mine had told me about the mushy peas before going on this trip and how much he loved them.  He was not mistaken.  They are good!

Nightime LondonSo with my mission accomplished, I sat back and enjoyed the rest of the trip like a boss. As the sun began to fade in the beautiful British sky, my wife and I made our journey back toward our hotel.  Days tend to fly by in London.  We stayed so busy and interested in so many things.

Here are a few things to remember when planning a trip to London:

  1. It’s expensive.  The pound is a constant reminder to study for promotion.  Why?  Cuz you gotta pay to play, especially when the pound is hanging around.
  2. Plan for weather.  It tends to rain a lot in London, and in the autumn and winter months it’s pretty chilly.  So make sure you bring an umbrella, a scarf, a beanie and some gloves.  Maybe you won’t need them, but it’s better to have them instead of paying pounds for new ones.
  3. Have an idea of the train situation before you go.  Being educated on the train and the Tube will save you a lot of money and also time.
  4. If flying on Ryan Air, don’t check a bag.  Try fitting all of your stuff into a backpack and a small carry on.

I was thinking the trip would be stressful and we’d be going non-stop trying to cram a million things into two days, but I was wrong.  It wasn’t stressful.  It was fun.  And, yes, we were busy, but a fun kind of busy.  The kind of busy you had when you were a kid and lost track of time because you got lost in the good time.

Posted in Been There 2014, Been There, Done That!, Spangdahlem | Leave a comment

Sci-Fi Con: A whole new universe

By Airman 1st Class Timothy Kim

When people hear the word “sci-fi,” they tend to reference popular franchises and series such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who and Firefly.

On an honest scale from “no clue” to “no idea,” my knowledge on the world of science fiction and fantasy was limited.

All I knew about Sci-Fi was “Star Wars,” The Force, light sabers and a frozen Han Solo. When it came to fantasy, the only face that popped into my head was Elijah Wood from “Lord of the Rings.” That’s not to say that I was biased, I was just what my friends — who happened to be subject matter experts in the realm of sci-fi and fantasy — called an “ignoramus.”

My mind just couldn’t wrap itself around the mysteriously complex laws that surrounded the universe beyond ours.

Timelords?

141115-F-OG770-366Jedis?

141115-F-OG770-388Cyborgs?

141115-F-OG770-378Sure, I knew plenty about the “Walking Dead ” and I knew plenty about monsters and werewolves.

I knew plenty about monsters and werewolves. I know all three colors of a light saber, wait, there’s a purple one? But I knew close to nothing about the other worlds that existed.

That is, until Nov. 15.

Saturday, I had the privilege of meeting experts of science fiction and fantasy when I walked through the doors of what I thought was the Landscheid Room in our very own Club Eifel.

Oh, how wrong I was. Awestruck and gob-smacked by the intensity of the fictitious science before me, I knew I was going to have an adventure … that was out of this world!

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Okay… my bad.

Camera in hand, mike in my back pocket and my mind swirling, I walked from one corner of the room to the next as I grew anxious with anticipation.

Who were these costumed mercenaries? Why was Darth Vader staring me down from the other side of the room?

141115-F-OG770-182What in the world is Doctor Doom doing here? And who is that girl with the blue skin and is she single?

I had way too many questions. To get them answered, I walked straight over to the event organizer, who was kindly pointed out to me by a very courteous Doctor Who.

Jarrod Garceau, the genius behind Operation Sci-Fi Con 2014, was the man with the plan; a plan that has succeeded for seven years.

Though Jarrod couldn’t tell me anything about Ms. Pretty-in-Blue, he did spill the beans on his reasons for hosting this awesome get-together.

“I actually started this program seven years ago as an Airman,” Garceau said. “When I got out of the Air Force, I continued working with Club Eifel. They took the program, loved it and nurtured my nerdiness.”

Garceau proceeded to explain to me the specific events that he had planned for that day.

There were movie trailers, music, video game stations, and tabletop games – such as “Warhammer 40K.” There was also costume contests, photographs with professional costume club members (whaaaaat?) and medieval gladiator cage fights (whaaaaaaaat?!)

The Singing Sabers, individuals from the Spangdahlem community dedicated to the art of singing, sang “The Misty Mountains,” a song from “The Hobbit,” in a cappella.

The German Garrison of the 501st Legion: (Vader’s Fist), an impressive costume club that sport movie-quality equipment and props, marched through the aisles with an army of storm troopers, pilots and commanding officers.

The best part — they were led by none other than Darth Vader himself.

There was also the Mandalorian Mercs, another group of dedicated fans who also sport movie-grade quality equipment, but more akin to the bounty hunters of the Star Wars universe, such as Jango and Boba Fett. The Twin Suns, a Mandalorian Mercs clan from Belgium, graced us with their presence that day.

I even got to speak to their leader, Sonny Bertels.

“We’re invading America/Germany, and we’re doing a fine job, if I can say so myself,” Bertels said. “We’re going to attract all the cameras and make sure it’s pointed directly at us.”

And they succeeded, because I followed them with my camera for a good while before I was distracted by Doctor Doom and his league from the Luxembourg Convention.

Dedicated costumers made their appearances from the Luxembourg Convention, and there were gladiators who fought in cages with weapons from the Luxembourg Knights.

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We had merchants selling amulets, rings and necklaces. Vendors selling artwork and other crafts also made themselves known with their superb work. There was also a stand that sold other goods… like the sonic screwdriver.

But aside from the amazing attractions and impressive costumes, Sabers got to meet artists, authors and sci-fi geniuses.

I got to meet Austin May, an artist who I knew as the mastermind behind the Air Force Times’ “Air Force Toons,” as well as Keith Houin, an expert of science fiction and creator of Atomic Bazooka Studios.

“Jarrod Garceau and Club Eifel, the way they put this convention is remarkable,” Houin said. “I’ve seen events that are better funded and with bigger facilities, and all they get are 200 people – that’s it, at best. Garceau gets 500 to 600 people walking through the doors.”

Houin revealed to me that he was a former U.S. Air Force master sergeant.

“What’s really great is coming back to the Air Force,” Houin added. “I’m in Belgium right now, working for the Army, but seeing the Airmen out there that I worked with for so long, it’s great.”

What made me stare at him in awe wasn’t just because he created awesome works – such as a book he co-wrote, or his upcoming web comic, and not just because he honorably served his country as a military service member, but because he had a passion – a dream – and he still managed to pursue it and live in it.

141115-F-OG770-284Internal fan-boy moments ensued.

After the convention, I grabbed a couple of fellow attendees and asked them how they felt about the whole event.

“It was really fun; everybody is dressing up and showing off what they can do,” said a spouse of a military service member. “The costumes were awesome, and it was a lot more than I thought it’d be.”

“I liked it, it’s always interesting to come out and see,” said an Airman who worked in the 52nd Maintenance Group. “You can see just how many other nerds there are.”

A new world had been introduced to me, a world I thought I knew, but was told that the world of sci-fi had not stopped just because I stopped watching “Star Wars” when I was 12. The world of sci-fi, much like our world, continues to evolve as long as there are beautiful minds that continue to imagine, dream and wish.

Posted in Spangdahlem, Support | 1 Comment

Fear Factory’s frightening fun for family and friends

I know it’s been three days since All Hallow’s Eve – or as you may call it, “Halloween” – but in my defense, Halloween’s origin dictates that it’s a triduum: a three-day observation of remembering the dead, saints (hallows) and martyrs. Ergo, I should still be in the green – not unlike Christmas lights conveniently left hanging up within “12 days.”

I know you’re probably thinking, “I didn’t honor or remember any saints on Friday,” and that’s totally fine! The great thing about Halloween is that we get to spend time with friends and family with sugary sweets, trick-or-treating, parties and costumes. But the iconic thing about Halloween, the thing we remember it most by, is the horror we uphold on that day. Am I right?

The tradition of Halloween has been with America for a long time, but for Germany, not so much. Though it has been picking up here recently, Halloween remains mainly an American celebration.

So, to share some of our traditions with our German hosts, a horror-themed “Fear Factory” event was hosted at the Bitburg Annex from Oct. 29 to Nov. 1. The event started at 5 p.m. and ran to midnight on each day with the first hour serving as “trick-or-treat” run-through for children and the remainder being the haunted hours for adults and any “willing” children.

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René Krekel, one of the German actors who participated in the haunted house as a “chainsaw man” and a “masked massacre man”, explained to me what was going on that day, Nov. 1 on Saturday.

“I decided to do this because it’s kind of fun,” Krekel said. “With all the horror films from the U.S. becoming popular, many people here wanted to know what’s going on, so they came and had a look. They will be shocked.”

Being a fan of all things horror-related, I was more than a little eager – and, honestly, a little nervous – to see what our installation had planned for our host nation friends.

Sitting in a dark room illuminated by black light, I tried my best to listen to our “tour guide,” who led us through the maze of horrors with a green glow stick so we wouldn’t be lost. I waited patiently and anxiously for the tour guide to get things started.

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Through the maze of horrors, we encountered various monsters and other fearsome sights that included, but were not limited to: werewolves, vampires, zombies, the clinically and satanically insane, ghouls, deformed killers, demented banshees, screaming children (which is actually a lot scarier than you would think), innocent victims getting killed by monsters crying for help and last, but certainly not least, clowns.

That’s right, clowns.

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Fog and strobe lights filled the dark hallways and rooms that left you dazed, blinking and slowly shuffling forward as your heart pounded with anticipation as to what horrors lay ahead, unseen in the dense mist before you.

Banging, screaming, maniacal laughter and calls for help could be heard in the grim distance as my shaking hands kept to the wall, feeling my way forward in the Fear Factory. What lay ahead? What would jump out at me? What would they do to me once they had me clutched in their claws?

Of course, the whole thing was make-believe, but that’s what took me by surprise. As a fan, I consider myself quite critical when it comes to matters of horror. I’ve seen plenty of horror movies – since I was 8, I believe – so I’ve grown accustomed to the sight of blood and monsters. But the haunted house was so well done, I couldn’t help but feel I was part of a monster movie, and that’s what made things exciting.

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Naomi Garbay, another actor of the Fear Factory who played various roles during that night – portraying both monsters and victims – told me how she felt about the haunted house in the dressing room before the haunting started.

“We’re getting ready for our last night of scaring people and having a lot of fun,” Garbay said. “If someone should get too scared, we’ll help them out. Yes, I enjoy scaring people, but it’s really hard nowadays with a lot of horror films out there; they don’t really notice as much. It’s fun, it’s my first time and I’m really glad.”

And fun and scary it was, indeed. Many actors from the local German community and volunteers from the Spangdahlem community put their best efforts together to ensure citizens from Bitburg would truly understand what it meant to have a frightful night.

 It was Matthias Meyer, an event guide, who explained to me what Halloween meant to Germany.

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“The Americans get to enjoy the local events, such as Winefest, but now it’s time for the Americans to give something back to the local community,” he said. “We’re hosting this event for the outside community, sharing the American traditions as well, so that they can better understand what’s going on and build a better friendship between cultures.”

Though I did try to gather the reactions from a few tour groups afterward, my lack of German language skills made it difficult to understand what they felt specifically, but their universal body language was enough for me to understand they had a great time, just like me.

Spooky? Yes.

Fun? Definitely.

Horrifying? Oh, you better believe it.

The Fear Factory was a screaming success, garnering a large gathering far into the terrifying hours of that night. Teens, adults, children and parents all came together not just for a scream, but a chance to see the horrifying thrills Americans enjoy on Oct. 31, every year.

I’m definitely looking forward to attend next year. Maybe, this time, as a monster!

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Hanging shirts for domestic violence awareness

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By Airman 1st Class Kyle Gese
52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Airing out the dirty laundry is one thing, but Karen Pilalas’ 4th-grade class helped the 52nd Medical Operations Squadron Family Advocacy hang up shirts to raise awareness for domestic violence.

Brittny Gainey, 52nd MDOS Family Advocacy intervention specialist, spoke to the students about how to stop violence.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and in 1990 the Clothes Line Project was created to help raise awareness and prevent violence. It began to spread across the world, turning into an international anti-domestic violence campaign.

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In 2006, the campaign spread to Spangdahlem where children hung painted shirts on a clothes line outside of the post office. This project was tailored to the teen center and school-age children, but on occasion adults would help paint the shirts, too.

Gainey said some adults would get really emotional because they either knew a victim of domestic violence or they were a victim themselves. She also said the project was very therapeutic for them.

Family advocacy now plans to revolutionize the project to reach a wider audience. Gainey said this may be the last year that they hang shirts to raise awareness. The new project will include more people and will be visible around the base, so stay tuned!

Posted in Mission Support, Relationships, Spangdahlem | Leave a comment

Safeguarding your digital footprint

By Tech. Sgt. Steve Grever
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

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Social media is a great resource for Airmen and their families to share information and stay connected to relatives at home and abroad.

Although many depend on these wonderful tools, recent events have encouraged us to re-evaluate our digital footprint to ensure our personal and professional information is protected from online predators and individuals who want to do us harm.

While social media use can be entertaining and informative, it poses potential operations security weaknesses, and Air Force Instruction 1-1, Air Force Standards, provides guidance on appropriate social media use by Airmen.

OPSEC and personal privacy concerns should be paramount when using social media. Military members have recently been threatened on social media by terrorist organizations looking for information they can use to harm military families and disrupt Air Force operations.

The following tips will make it more difficult for unwanted users to acquire your data through social media:

• Be cautious when accepting friend requests and interacting with people online. You should never accept a friend request from someone you do not know, even if they know a friend of yours.

• Don’t share information you don’t want to become public. Remember, once you put something out there, you can’t control where it goes.

• Disable location-based social networking, or geotagging, on all social media platforms. Geotagging is the process of adding geographical identification to photographs, video, websites and text messages.

• Avoid posting work or personal schedules and travel itineraries, especially deployment information and return dates for yourself, a loved one or a unit.

• If you ever hesitate before clicking ‘post’, reconsider the content you are about to share. Our team follows the motto: When in doubt, throw it out!

• Adjust your privacy settings to ensure your posts and profile information is secured and seen only by approved audiences. This last tip applies to any social media platforms you may use, but since Facebook is the most widely used, we want to share this detailed how-to guide on how to secure your profile. Check out this guide for more details.

Practicing good OPSEC and helping family members follow these security measures is essential to protecting personal and mission-critical information on social media. If you ever feel you are being threatened or you notice vulnerable information online, be sure to alert the social media platform’s help center and your local OPSEC manager for assistance.

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Hiking Devil’s Canyon

If you live on or around base, it can be pretty easy to forget Germany is a great, big, beautiful place out there even if you’ve never stepped foot in a major European city. I’m talking about the wilds, baby, and boy are they right on our doorstep.

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I got a firsthand look during my recent “death-defying” Devil’s Canyon hike with Outdoor Recreation. Death-defying levels may vary.

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About a thirty-minute drive and we were at the start of our nearly five-hour trek through the once submerged canyon. Our guide pointed out the local flora and animal tracks, educating our little band on the dangers and surprises of the German wilds.

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We learned to identify poisonous plants, ate others I previously thought were the bane of a hiker’s existence and got a chance to enjoy some awesome local cuisine not picked off the path.

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One thing I would recommend to the would-be hiker is bring good shoes and water. While the Devil’s Canyon itself is a short stretch at the end, the winding path through the surrounding hills is both gorgeous and a little perilous for a klutz like me.

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There are stretches of this hike that can take your breath away with their beauty. There are others that can literally knock the wind out of you if you happen to take a tumble.

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While I’d recommend this hike to someone with a little bit of experience, a novice hiker can also get by with a good pair of shoes and a hardy appetite for adventure.

If you decide you need a day of exploration pretty close to home, this hike may be right up your alley. Outdoor Rec has some great guides who keep the trip entertaining and you may be surprised how much you’ll learn.

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It’s a hike that’s difficult enough to work up a sweat, but not too extreme for a novice either. So if you’re up for a trek on the wild side, why not give the Devil’s canyon a shot? Keep on exploring, my fellow adventurers. I hope to see you out there!

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Parade armed by weapons Airmen

From loading weapons on aircraft to inspecting or fixing parts, Airmen work long hours on the flight line to keep planes in the wild blue yonder.

In addition to this, a select group of Airmen do something more to help the local community and base.

Aircraft armament systems Airmen across the Air Force select one quarter of the year to volunteer in their local communities to give back as an entire career field.

Roughly 40 2W1 Airmen from Spangdahlem chose to support the to Bitburg Middle/High School during their annual homecoming parade and pep rally.

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“Ensuring the students’ safety during the evening’s chants, parade and bonfire remained their top priority,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ernest Hatley, 52nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron NCO-in-charge weapons maintenance and event lead.

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The Airmen not only helped for the school event; they also raised money for a local German orphanage.

Though homecoming came to an end, Spangdahlem’s 2W1 Airmen will continue to give back to the base and local communities.

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Oh! Snap! Vol. 14

It’s been a busy month Saber Nation and we’ve got the photos to prove it. Our Airmen, family members, civilians and host nation friends have been involved in everything from concerts to birthdays, campaigns and memorials. Take a look at the latest Oh! Snap! for a complete rundown of events:

14991105019_6b7d5518a7_kOur 52nd Fighter Wing commander, Col. Pete Bilodeau, goes through immersion training with the fire department.

15174415106_93e89624e5_kThe Bitburg Barons football team began the 2014 season with a home game against the Baumholder Buccaneers. The Barons beat the Buccaneers 32-8.

15205670975_0c7da15ce8_kSpangdahlem kicked of the Combined Federal Campaign-Overseas with a 5K run and a field goal competition.

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15019683730_fc5bbfc13e_kSabers remember the fallen in the a 9/11 Memorial Run and

15243581171_dd049460d3_k Tops in Blue stopped by performed for Saber Nation as part of their 2014 annual tour.

15233121386_f287903a22_kSpangdahlem Airmen and family members celebrated the Air Force Birthday with a ball.

 

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Happy Birthday U.S. Air Force – 67 years and counting!!

Today marks 67 years since the 80th U.S. Congress established the U.S. Air Force as its own military branch Sept. 18, 1947. Since then, thousands and thousands of aircraft have patrolled the skies to ensure the service’s mission to fly, fight and win.

In honor of this occasion, let’s take a look at back at some of the aircraft that flew in the skies above Spangdahlem since the base’s activation May 10, 1953.

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RF-80 “Shooting Star” 1953 – 1956

1B
RB-26 “Invader” 1953 – 1957

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RB-57 “Canberra” 1954 – 1957

5
RF-84 “Thunderjet” 1955 – 1958

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F-4D “Phantom II” 1967 – 1968
F-4D “Phantom II” 1969 – 1971
F-4D “Phantom II” 1971 – 1982
F-4E “Phantom II” 1978 – 1987

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F-4G “Phantom II” 1979 – 1991
F-4G “Phantom II” 1991 – 1994
F-16C/D “Fighting Falcon” 1987 – 1991
F-16C/D “Fighting Falcon” 1991 – Present

20
A/OA-10A “Thunderbolt II” 1992 – 2013

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That’s a big gas spill

Water starts gushing out of a fire hose, and victims lay on the ground.

Airmen participate in Exercise

First responders are about to have a crazy morning.

The fire department receives a phone call, possibly for another crisis they’ll have to extinguish.

“Exercise Exercise Exercise– we have a class three fuel spill in progress!!”

Instead of fuel and real casualties, firefighters dealt with water and simulated injuries in this Sept. 12 exercise with the expectation that they were real.

With that, first responders donned in full gear arrived to the scene of the spill to determine their next move.

Airmen participate in Exercise

They quickly notice the injured Airmen and that their first priority remains to get any casualties to safety.

The distance to do that, added to the weight from their own gear, provided the fire fighters with no simple task.

Airmen participate in Exercise

Once the paramedics received the injured, the firefighters worked with water fuels systems maintenance Airmen to quickly contain and clean up the simulated fuel spill.

The maintenance Airmen, dressed in all-white suits and green visors, set up a plug in a drainage ditch to stop the fuel from further leakage.

Airmen participate in Exercise

Airmen quickly contained the area and then simulated cleaning up the spill.

All the participants came together after the exercise to see what worked and what could have gone better to make sure they’re prepared in case the real thing happens.

It might have just been water today, but it could be fuel tomorrow. Regardless, 52nd Fighter Wing Airmen constantly train for various scenarios to maintain readiness for any contingency.

Written by Airman 1st Class Dylan Nuckolls

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