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Diggin’ up bones continued

While I was digging up bones the other day, I came across several stories that I wrote when I flew to Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan on a KC-135 Stratotanker. That’s the huge airplane that refuels other aircraft in flight.

I was chosen for this mission because I had a passport and a pulse. We went there because the U.S. Air Force base in Grand Forks, N.D., was deploying airmen and women to Manas regularly after the attacks on Sept. 11.

In honor of Veterans Day, I’m going to share a column I wrote when the photographer and I were preparing for our trip.



“As if my life wasn’t exciting enough, Herald photographer Jackie Lorentz and I are scheduled to fly to Kyrgyzstan on Monday with the U.S. Air Force.

In case you didn’t know, Kyrgyzstan is part of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which used to be a part of the now defunct USSR.



Kyrgyzstan or the Kyrgyz Republic is slightly smaller than South Dakota and is bordered by China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Try to say that three times fast.

Unlike tourists, Lorentz and I are traveling with the military to a place where military personnel are being deployed, which means there are different travel requirements.

We started learning about those requirements Thursday when we went shopping. No, not at the BX, but in a big warehouse filled with what the Air Force refers to as gear. Staff Sgt. David Arnett was our personal shopper.

There were helmets, big heavy vests, chemical suits and sleeping bags. Sleeping bags? Obviously, the Air Force never received my memo telling them I am allergic to camping.

We ended up with two big bags, A-bag for field gear and C-bag for, and I kid you not, chemical warfare defense equipment. I’m sure the Air Force has an acronym for that, but I just don’t know what it is.

Now I suppose you are thinking, just what is Rona K. Johnson going to do with chemical warfare defense equipment?

Well, according to the Deputy Chief of Readiness Harold James, “God willing the creek won’t rise too high, and you won’t have to use this stuff.”

Amen.

Even though we probably won’t have to use the chemical suits, we still had to learn how to use them in case of an emergency. So we had to go through NBC — Nuclear, Biological and Chemical — defense training.

James, who’s an expert on chemical warfare and hazardous material, was our teacher. His motto is “When the world goes to hell. I go to work.”

James, using some graphic photos, took us through several scenarios involving the plague, anthrax, smallpox, nerve gas and blister agents.

When we were properly horrified, he showed us how to don the chemical ensemble, which included a pair of pants with suspenders and a jacket with a hood.

There would definitely have to be a threat of chemical warfare before I would ever wear that ensemble in public. Not to mention the protective gloves, boots — which come in different styles, including the BROs, GVOs and MULOs — and the MCU-2A/P protective mask, or gas mask as we civilians call it.

Then we went through MOPP levels. MOPP, which stands for Mission Oriented Protective Postures, are used to indicate the level of threat. For example, a MOPP 0 means you only have to carry your chemical gear with you, whereas a 4 requires you to be in full gear.

Thank goodness the trip doesn’t require us to learn all of the Air Force acronyms.

All I know is that when the MOPP hits 4, I just hope I remember my NBCs.”


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