Keeping Airmen safe and secure

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Steve Staedler
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
If you think putting on a chemical suit is challenging, then it's probably best to avoid the Level A suit.

A fully encapsulated outfit that resembles an oversized banana, the Level A suit provides the highest level of protection against an attack when a chemical agent is suspected of being released.

But don't worry. If you're not one of the four Airmen assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Medical Group's Bioenvironmental Engineering Office here, there's no need to wear it or even try to get it on.

"It's tricky putting it on," said Staff Sgt. Thomas Hefty, a bioenvironmental engineering technician with the 379th EMDG. "They're also very hot. It's like wearing gortex in summer. You just don't want to do it. But it's something you have to do for the job."

The career field plays numerous roles such as being a front-line responder to detect chemical/biological/radiological agents in contingency situations, as well as functioning behind the scenes ensuring personal safety for people deployed here.

The bioenvironmental engineering office's primary mission is readiness and responding to any chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear, or CBRN incident.

"We can detect and identify most chemical agents such as nerve, blister, choking agents, and toxic industrial chemicals," said Capt. Jung Lee, chief of the bioenvironmental engineering office. "During any contingency incident, the fire department is the initial responder. They set up and cordon off the area and request our help to identify the presence of any CBRN agents. We are also a health advisor to the commander based on the agents being used against us."

It takes more than the naked eye to detect chemical agents. Captain Lee and his team have a variety of detection devices at their disposal. The hand-held assay detects and identifies eight different biological agents; the hapsite -- a portable gas chromatogram/mass spectrometer detects and identifies chemical agents such as Sarin and mustard gas and toxic industrial chemicals; the SAM-935 detects and identifies various radioisotopes.

Being able to use these and other chemical detection devices is critical to responding to current ongoing threats.

"In this day and age readiness is going to continue growing," said Master Sgt. Timothy Pew, NCOIC of the bioenvironmental engineering office. "You really have to stay on top of readiness issues at hand because it's a tough world out there."

In addition to readiness, the bioenvironmental engineering office also tests water on base and conducts industrial hygiene assessments of shops on base.

Bioenvironmental engineering office members certify 1.2 million bottles monthly. The team randomly chooses water bottles for testing, looking for bacteria and other impurities. But it's not just bottled water they're checking.

They also check bacteria, ph and chlorine levels for about 8.6 million gallons of water monthly that is used in the cadillacs and other locales here. The pool water is also checked weekly to ensure safe swimming conditions.

"We don't want to close the pool, but at the same time we don't want to make anyone sick while they are swimming," Captain Lee said.

Industrial hygiene assessments ensure safe working conditions for people. Captain Lee said there are 77 shops here that require industrial hygiene surveys that consume more than 60 percent of the team's daily workload. The assessment evaluates work centers and identifies any hazardous conditions. Bioenvironmental engineering office members routinely performs air sampling, ventilation surveys, hazardous noise surveys and personal protective equipment evaluations, and makes recommendations based on their findings. Some shops are inspected every rotation, while others are inspected every year or on a case-by-case basis.

Captain Lee said most shops are generally in compliance because the base has been here for a few years; major discrepancies have been ironed out by now. The bioenvironmental engineering office staff manages and oversees all radioactive materials used and stored on base.

"What I enjoy most about my job is the fact that I'm not just doing one thing," said Airman 1st Class Brandon Stephens, a bioenvironmental engineering technician. "I'm not a paperwork person. I like getting out and seeing what everyone else is doing."