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Base learns from North Star exercise

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Tech. Sgt. Dale Tompkins, a member of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, reports an unexploded ordnance at the North Star exercise site here Friday, Feb. 19, 2010. After the UXO was discovered, it was cordoned off and reported. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Ashley Reed)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Tech. Sgt. Dale Tompkins, a member of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, reports an unexploded ordnance at the North Star exercise site here Friday, Feb. 19, 2010. After the UXO was discovered, it was cordoned off and reported. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Ashley Reed)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- More than 90 Airmen participated in the base's quarterly North Star exercise here Feb. 11-19.

The exercise was designed to simulate a deployment to Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, where Airmen were challenged to react to an active shooter scenario, survive chemical and biological attacks, demonstrate self-aid and buddy care techniques, and work through other bare-base defense situations.

"I believe the most valuable aspect Airmen learned during North Star was that you can never be too prepared," said Master Sgt. Edward Moore, a North Star Exercise Evaluation Team instructor. "The EET ran several scenarios during the exercise. These scenarios tested our Airmen's abilities to react to situations that can happen during a deployment. Our Airmen need to take training seriously, pay attention and then apply what they've learned in the battlefield."

Before being evaluated, the Airmen spent two days refreshing basic military techniques with the EET. Then, Airmen from multiple units on base set up camp at a remote, on-base location to simulate the deployment. The exercise was designed to replicate an environment similar to the conditions Airmen may encounter in a hostile location.

North Star is held quarterly in order to keep Airmen ready and prepared for an overseas deployment.

"I definitely learned new tactics and procedures, as I do every time we go out," said Staff Sgt. Dustin Harrington, the 30th Comptroller Squadron deputy disbursing officer. "The biggest thing I've realized is all of these skills we learn at training and out in the field are perishable, and given the nature of most of our jobs, we realistically won't be able to put all of them to practice like we should on a consistent basis. Therefore, Airmen need to approach this pre-deployment training with a 110 percent willingness to learn and an open mind."

Although pre-deployment training can be rigorous at times, some Airmen enjoyed the change of pace from their normal duties.

"It was good to see Airmen, out of their work centers, doing what the taxpayers ultimately pay us to do - train and fight," Sergeant Harrington said. "It was also good to see people act much more personable and team oriented during deployment exercises. You can definitely see a difference in attitudes when someone is working for survival, as opposed to working back at a home station and gradually losing sight of their overall mission. That's probably what I miss most about being deployed."

Regardless of the nature of an exercise, exercises are conducted for training purposes. North Star exercises help identify the Airmen's strong and weak areas of performance and their level of preparedness.

"In order to have an effective exercise, it takes teamwork and involvement from every player," Sergeant Moore said. "If a scenario is dropped to place an unexploded ordnance outside a facility and nobody calls it in to the Emergency Operations Center, then the scenario is played out much differently. Additionally, when communication is broken, this changes the outcome of the scenario. This was very challenging for the EET."

More collaboration and teamwork will make the next North Star exercise better. The Airmen need to realize that everyone is important to winning the fight and each individual is part of Team Vandenberg, said Sergeant Moore.

As an additional benefit to the training, some Airmen have become more comfortable with the idea of deploying.

"I definitely feel more prepared to deploy," said Airman 1st Class Dallas Cole, a 381st Training Support Squadron commander's support staff journeyman. "Regardless if you have already learned the procedures, the only way to ensure that you are properly executing them is with as much practice and exercise as possible."