JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
On April 13, 2020, two Airmen were tracking multiple tornadoes near Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina. One of the tornadoes was a threat to the installation; however, the two Airmen accomplished tasks needed to be done in order to alert the base of the possible life-threatening danger.
The two Airmen work in the 628th Air Base Wing, and they receive extensive training in order to handle high-pressure situations and emergency conditions such as natural disasters.
When Airman 1st Class Madison Henry and Airman 1st Class Joseph Arnold, both emergency actions controllers assigned to the 628th Air Base Wing Command Post, received the tornado warning notification they quickly went into action and alerted JB Charleston to the nearby danger.
“We just took over from our counterparts that were working the night shift,” said Arnold. “It was about 20 to 30 minutes after we logged into our computers and got them up and running, and a tornado warning came in. Tornadoes were touching down all around the Charleston area. We had to scramble really fast and call the Air Base Wing commander because it was a weird situation. He directed us on what to do and we did it quickly. It was an ideal outcome for that type of situation.”
According to the National Weather Service, a tornado watch means to be prepared because tornadoes are possible, and a tornado warning means to take action because a tornado has been spotted or indicated by weather radar. There are specific protocols for a tornado warning that are different from a tornado watch. Arnold and Henry knew exactly what they needed to do and had no hesitation getting it done.
“When a tornado warning happens, we have to go over the Giant Voice and the base siren,” said Henry. “We also have the AtHoc that we have to pull up, which I used to send out the notification, and Airman Arnold did the Giant Voice.”
AtHoc is an interactive warning system that allows senior leaders to inform the base personnel of urgent information such as base closures or delayed openings and issue mass warnings for emergencies and safety issues.
The experience was new to both of them, but Arnold and Henry think they handled the situation better than expected.
“Airman Arnold and I have never experienced an actual tornado warning, which is more serious than a watch. We've only experienced tornado watches,” said Henry. “I think we handled it pretty well.”
Their leaders also believe they managed the situation well.
“We are extremely proud of Airman 1st Class Arnold and Airman 1st Class Henry,” said Master Sgt. Lynnette Huff, the NCO in charge of 628th Air Base Wing Command Post Command and Control Operations. “Being charged with alerting the base within two minutes, they also understand that our joint base is geographically separated, and they are responsible for validating which areas are at risk before taking action.”
Huff also stressed the importance of being able to swiftly react and quickly sift through the incoming alerts to provide the installation commander the real-time data to make decisions for the Air Base and Weapons Station.
“These calm young professionals are the nerve center for Joint Base Charleston,” said Huff. “They connect higher headquarters, commanders, the flightline and emergency responders with the time-critical information needed to handle emergencies decisively and make informed decisions at the lowest level possible.”
During the event, Arnold and Henry were both confident they knew what to do and were able to concentrate in order to get the job done.
“I wasn't nervous at all,” said Arnold. “It is concerning to have a tornado touch down and not be able to see it or know what's going on, but we just have to do our jobs and focus on that.”
The incident provided unique experience and allowed the Airmen to show their leadership they are confident in their ability to perform tasks correctly while under pressure.
“It was a great learning experience for both of us,” said Henry. “Our leaders want to make sure we are comfortable in every situation. They push us to make sure we're competent in every single area because when it comes time to be the shift manager, you have to be able to perform and think on a dime.”
Command post Airmen are trained on how to handle high pressure situations.
“It’s intimidating at first, especially being a younger Airman, but the more you do it, the more confidence you gain and the better you are able to pass along information with confidence,” said Henry.
Arnold added having so much responsibility forces younger Airmen to mature quickly.
“It forces you to grow up really fast,” he said. “You can't be scared, and you can't be intimidated talking to higher ups. In a way, it is stressful but you have no other choice than to just do it and be good at it.”
According to Henry, everyone contributes to the workload and manages their responsibilities to get the job done when it’s their time to work.
“Everyone shares the workload here and everyone has similar responsibilities,” said Henry. “Our NCOs have more responsibilities, and senior controllers have a little more responsibilities because they are in charge of a shift. You’re not just the helper anymore, this is your shift so its game on.”
Mentorship and training help Airmen understand all areas and responsibilities of the job, even when they are put under pressure.
Arnold and Henry were put under pressure, which showcased their abilities to prove they are reliable Airmen who can get the job done effectively and efficiently.
“I feel like we were 100 percent prepared for the situation,” said Arnold. “I wasn't nervous at all, I was confident. I think we have a pretty good team here. The base is in good hands with this command post team.”