Realistic exercise keeps Airmen, host nation on their toes

Story and photos by Airman 1st Class Trevor Rhynes
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Members of Team Ramstein, along with their Army and host nation counterparts participated in a major accident response exercise Oct. 27 on Rhine Ordnance Barracks.

The exercise tested various units’ ability to respond to a major accident and their aptitude to work together to handle assorted challenges that may arise during a crisis response.

“The main objective was to make this exercise as realistic as possible,” said Capt. Jesse Klaetsch, lead inspector for this exercise. “We have some ‘body parts’ scattered around the scene just to give the crash team a glimpse as to what they’d see if they were on a real crash site. We wanted to take this step-by-step to show participants how this kind of mishap would go, so everyone involved would have a good idea of what the real-world procedures were.”

He said this type of exercise was chosen because of the volume of aircraft traffic in the area.

“We wanted to try this type of exercise because flying aircraft is an inherently dangerous business as we’ve seen throughout the past — mishaps end up happening,” Klaetsch said. “We wanted to see how members of Team Ramstein would cope with these disasters. The teams on location have done a good job executing their procedure from the start.”

The exercise also provided German and American responders the opportunity to practice working together.

“This was a simulated accident, testing how American and German firefighters would work together and respond to events on scene,” said Staff Sgt. Alan Drake, 886th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter. “In this accident, there was a simulated aircraft accident in the flight path of Ramstein Air Base. We’ve practiced accidents on Ramstein, but we haven’t done one off base, so it was time to see how we would react without having all the specialized vehicles for this type of event.”

This was a joint exercise, involving Air Force, Army and German first responders with three different elements involved.

This exercise was not only used to evaluate the base on how it operates during a crisis; it was also the first of many exercises to use a new system of inspectors rather than evaluators.

“In the past, U.S. Air Forces in Europe would send personnel to inspect the entire base, but now it’s going to be inspectors of the base inspecting their own wing, called the commanders inspection program,” Klaetsch said. “It gives commanders a better perspective of how ready their wing is. It’s important for commanders to realize it’s OK to make mistakes and to not be perfect, because it gives evaluators an idea of where its personnel are weak, and to help make them better in those areas.”

At the end of the day, this exercise showed that members of Ramstein continue to work well with their host nation counterparts. 

“I think the operations today proved that Americans and Germans have been working well together for years,” said Karl Webel, 886th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter. “There have been occasions where we’ve responded to real incidents together and managed to take control of the situation.”