Alert Force Evaluation, the Big "O" Four in a Row

OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass -- Major inspections come and go at the l02nd Fighter Wing, they are always taken with the utmost seriousness; however, there may be none that is more significant than the Alert Force Evaluation. Unlike other important inspections where the unit knows exactly when the inspection team will arrive and has months to prepare, this is a no-notice inspection. The team shows up at the base gate, and the scramble countdown begins as the wing has just minutes to launch its F -15 Fighter Jets to intercept a potential enemy or terrorist threat. This is the assessment that evaluates the wing on how well its Airmen perform their primary mission, the defense of the Northeast Air Defense Sector of the United States.

Col. Anthony Schiavi, the wing's new commanding officer on just his third day in command, heard the alert horn sound early on Tuesday morning, the 5th of June, while presiding over a routine battle staff meeting with his top wit commanders briefing him on current world and local events. Wing members never know when it's going to be the real thing, a false alarm, or just perhaps another test. This time, it was an Alert Force Evaluation designed to test the wing's response against a Coast Guard aircraft stolen in Canada and currently penetrating U.S. airspace.

Action began in the wing's Command Post where controllers received the order from Northeast Air Defense Sector to "suit up," and then two and a half minutes later to scramble aircraft. Hitting the horn button, the command post notified pilots in the alert bam. The alarm also alerted security forces personnel who provided a safe corridor for the aircraft from alert barn to their takeoff area.

Pulses rise as hearts begin pumping faster while carefully practiced response reactions take over. Across the base, highly skilled pilots and ground crews spring into action, and race to scramble F-15 Eagle fighter jets.

The alert pilots are concentrating on getting their fighter jets fired up and off the runway. Within two-thirds of the allotted time for this phase of the inspection, two F-15 Eagles are screaming down the runway and launch into the sky climbing high above Cape Cod in coven pursuit of a potential threat. The threat must be intercepted, identified, forced to land if determined a threat, or if necessary, be shot down.

The air employment response of the exercise is only one portion that the wing is evaluated on. Wing personnel are also evaluated on initial response actions, command and control procedures, aircraft maintenance, and security. Maintenance inspections of both alert aircraft upon return to Otis revealed zero discrepancies. Exceptional Security Force support was noted during the recovery operation when 360 degree security was provided prior to returning the aircraft to the restricted area.

According to Lt. Col. Fredrick "Stitch" Shepherd, NORAD Inspector General Team Chief, "the 102nd again for the fourth time running gets the big 'O' outstanding marks for its performance; every major area was rated as outstanding."

Senior Master Sgt. Aracio "Gus" Barrigas, Alert Maintenance Team Supervisor was named by the inspection team as a Superior Performer. Colonel Sheppard rewarded him with a NORAD Inspector General Coin; the distinction is for people who perform above and beyond the call of duty to do an exemplary job.

In his closing out-briefing remarks Colonel Shepherd said, "We at NORAD all know that your unit has a strong history in air defense (35 years), and has been around for a long time. It really saddens us to see a fine unit such as this fall by the wayside by being BRACed (Base Realignment and Closure Committee). I was thinking, how are the people in this unit going to approach this inspection, with a sense of professionalism and pride, or are they going to give up and say (expletive), we've been BRACed, I don't care? Obviously you have done the former. For you to step up and do even better than you did the last time is impressive. This is your unit's fourth outstanding rating in a row; no other unit has even come close to this record. You have set the bar high, and it will be near impossible for any other unit to raise it. The closest any other unit has come is two in a row."

Colonel Schiavi commented, "It's the leadership of guys like Gus, and all the folks underneath who do ll the hands-on work who make everything happen. When you consider the quality of our aircraft, you don't need to be a math major to know that zero means there isn't any better... We stress to our folks that we need to maintain our mission focus until the last crew comes off alert sometime early next year. We've taken this to heart, and mean to assure that we do our mission correctly, all the time."

The 102nd Fighter Wing maintains F-15 Eagles on alert 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The wing is responsible for protecting the Northeast region of the United States from armed attack and terrorist activities. Alert aircraft also are used to assist private and commercial aircraft in distress, and support law enforcement activities involving criminal activities, such as smuggling and illicit drug activity. Aircraft from the wing were the first to arrive on scene over New York City after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.