The four-day training exercise mimicked active duty.
VIENNA -- A thunderous explosion sounded when a quarter-stick of dynamite detonated Saturday morning on the grounds of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station.
Master Sgt. Brian Ripple and Capt. Brent Davis of the 910th Airlift Wing quickly dove for cover under a pine tree and immediately began pulling protective masks over their heads.
As clouds of neon reddish-orange smoke -- remnants of a chemical bomb containing a nerve agent -- rose, the reservists evaluated the situation and pointedly discussed their best course of action.
The scenario was part of a daylong exercise intended to train and test the skills of Air Force reservists, and though the threats were simulated, the reactions were real.
More than 500 Air Force reservists participated in the large-scale emergency simulation exercise at the 230-acre base, which is adjacent to Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.
The training operations, dubbed Patriot Penguin, began Wednesday and culminated in Saturday's event, which included everything from simulated chemical and missile attacks to hostage/POW situations.
Ripple, public affairs officer for the 910th, said the activities are a vital tool to keep the airmen's skills finely tuned.
"If you don't exercise these actions from time to time, you get rusty," Ripple said. "People don't have daily access to equipment, they need practice to keep proficient."
On Friday, airmen flew four of the base's 12 C-130 military planes above Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania to simulate a deployment to a Mideast air base. During Saturday's activities, the reservists behaved as though stationed in desert territory under constant threat of enemy attack.
"This puts us in a realistic environment to get used to responding to various terrorist attacks, biological attacks and chemical attacks," Ripple said.
Simulations required airmen to wear a chemical protection suit over their regular uniforms and pieces of contaminant-tracing M-9 tape on their bodies, and they had to react as though each threat was real. An exercise evaluation team of officers observed the airmen to offer procedural advice and ensure everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing.
"This training is not any different than what someone in active duty would go through," Ripple said, adding more reservists have been deployed in recent years than ever before.
The real-life deployment center for the 910th Airmen is at the Al Udeid air base in Qatar, where all air operations for Iraq are controlled. On Friday, the Youngstown base welcomed home 28 returning Air Force reserve personal who had served in Iraq.
Ripple said Patriot Penguin is just one of the many training activities the base uses to keep its personnel prepared for such overseas deployment.
"We have been instructed to respond to everything with the most urgent sense possible," Ripple said. "The most important thing is we learn how to respond to situations quickly, so that we can continue on with the mission."