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Command Post handles crises, emergencies head-on at Sheppard

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jeff Szczechowski
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
When some type of emergency or disaster impacts Sheppard personnel, facilities or equipment, the first people to get notification don't always have sirens attached to their vehicles or weapons and fire hoses at their hips.

Often, the first person to learn of a crisis situation or some other bit of news important enough to pass on to base leadership is an 82nd Training Wing command post emergency action controller.

Master Sgt. Michael Williams, wing command post superintendent, who's been in the CP business for more than 20 years, said his wing staff agency is the base commander's nerve center.

"Anything that happens on this base, whether with physical assets or personnel, we keep wing leadership informed," he said.

Those personnel include permanent party, Airmen-in-training, civilian contractors and family members, said Sergeant Williams.

And "anything that happens" can, and has, including deaths, injuries, aircraft accidents and vehicle mishaps.

Tech Sgt. Chris Black, wing command post noncommissioned officer in charge, said: "We're the first to know of something happening and the first to respond. If there's any type of threat, we're the first to know, and we notify the commander and implement appropriate actions."

The command post staff works directly for the 82nd TRW commander, Sergeant Williams said. He also said "because the 80th Flying Training Wing has no command post, we are their command post, as well."

Sergeant Williams stressed that in order to keep both 82nd TRW and the 80th FTW leadership informed, the command post staff also needs to be informed by the rest of the base community.

He said "a lot of people don't think to call the command post if something is going on, so that we can make wing leadership notifications. A lot of times, the command post does not get a call when we should."

He stressed the sooner the agency receives an input, the better for all.

"The quicker we get information and can relay it, the quicker we can get guidance from leadership to make a situation better for our end customer," Sergeant Williams said.
Sergeant Williams' position is similar to that of a wing staff agency chief. The command post has no assigned officer-in-charge; the superintendent fills that role.

"Every command post used to have an OIC. Some still have them. But some of the smaller commands have gone to senior NCOs/superintendents. We still have all of the responsibilities of majors and lieutenant colonels, but now have masters and seniors filling those slots," he said.

Unlike some other Air Force command posts, Sheppard's is not involved with base flying operations. However, it keeps busy with Airmen-in-training and Red Cross notifications, weather warnings and updates, management of the base emergency notification system and the network alerting system-those little audio-visual boxes that now pop up on computers all over the base-and, of course, the omnipresent "giant voice" base siren and loudspeaker system.

The CP also maintains closed-circuit television capability, which can be activated so the agency can override every channel on every TV set on Sheppard with real world or exercise emergency notifications.

Plus, there's the daily stream of phone calls from parents seeking information about sons and daughters in training, others with routine questions about base activities, and still more that might be of a more urgent nature.

"You never know what's coming when that phone rings," Sergeant Williams said.

Sergeant Black has fielded more than his share of those calls. He said working the night shift can present an additional challenge after the phone is answered.

"You have to be responsive to the caller and know what agency or commander to contact, if necessary," he said. "Then, is it important enough to wake the commander in the middle of the night, or can it wait (until the morning)?"

Airman 1st Class Megan Campbell, a recent returnee from Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, is a command post emergency action controller here. She knows what it's like to have to wake-up Brig. Gen. James Whitmore, 82nd TRW commander, long before the sun comes up.

Reflecting on one of those late-night notifications, Airman Campbell said "General Whitmore (the 82nd TRW commander) is always very kind - even at 3 a.m. when I wake him up."

She added a "pretty cool" thing about working in the CP is that "you can talk to the general or colonels on a daily basis."

Referring to her work, she said "having three phones to your ears can be challenging," and when an emergency takes place, "it's the most stressful job." She then added that common sense, following base and office checklists and adhering to set procedures helps to ensure successful mission accomplishment.

Just like Las Vegas, the base command post never closes down. Windowless and located in the basement of the community center, theirs is a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week operation. Day and night, weekends and holidays, someone is always manning a CP desk.

And no matter the time or day, Sergeant Williams said he always emphasizes three things: "Do the right thing; do the right thing; do the right thing."

"I remind my folks here, every phone call or e-mail we answer or send out, we are representing the wing commander. We have to be professional at all times," he said.