Socks, deodorant send gym patrons fleeing

Senior Airman John Broussard helps Airman 1st Class Nicholas Worthington, both from Explosive Ordnance Disposal, put on a bomb suit before investigating a suspicious bag in the East Fitness Center here. (Air Force photo)

Senior Airman John Broussard helps Airman 1st Class Nicholas Worthington, both from Explosive Ordnance Disposal, put on a bomb suit before investigating a suspicious bag in the East Fitness Center here. (Air Force photo)

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFMCNS) -- A small blue gym bag did what no challenger could do in the preseason intramural basketball tournament – it stopped the 377th Services Squadron team’s drive to perfection.

Services and a 377th Security Forces Squadron team were to battle on the court to decide a victor in the double-elimination tournament Dec. 8. Services entered the finals undefeated, while Security Forces came in with one loss. If the Services team won, they’d be crowned the champions, but Security Forces would need two wins over their opponent to secure victory.

The game had a spirited start. The teams were led by dueling point guards, Everett Brown of Services and Morgan Goines of Security Forces, which kept the score close. Down in the paint, Services’ Derek Freeman battled Lamont Pickett for post-up baskets and rebounds.

The Security Forces team turned active defense and solid offensive play into a 17-13 lead at the first quarter’s 6-minute mark. Services Seth Merek snagged a rebound off a missed free throw, drove down the court and dished the ball to Brown, who immediately popped a three-point bucket to bring the game to within one.

The cops kept the pressure on their opponents by responding with a score of their own. As the Services team began to bring the ball up court, a referee suddenly blew his whistle, initiating an unexpected series of events.

Lesley Sparks, the fitness center director, entered mid-court and questioned the teams and spectators, “Did anyone leave a small blue gym bag in the men’s locker room?”

No one responded. The interruption was dismissed and play resumed.

Less than one scoreless minute later, whistles blew and the game was halted once again. Tech. Sgt. Robert Maginley, an on-duty security forces member, stepped onto the court and petitioned for the owner of the little blue gym bag.

One spectator ran down the bleachers, across the court and accompanied Sergeant Maginley toward the men’s locker room. Play resumed.

Seconds later, at approximately 6:50 p.m., a voice on public address speaker was calling for an evacuation of the fitness center. Apparently, the bag did not belong to the spectator from the bleachers. The little blue gym bag immediately became a suspicious package.

Everyone exited the fitness center into to the chill near-record cold December air. Most of the players from either team sought warmth in the Rio Grande Conference Center while fitness center staff and on-duty security forces members established a safe zone and maintained order.

Though the squadrons were opponents on the court, both services and security forces Airmen worked together seamlessly off the court to make the best of this potentially dangerous situation.

An explosive ordnance disposal team arrived at 7:27 p.m. With the help of Senior Airman John Broussard and Staff Sgt. Albert Jewell, Airman 1st Class Nicholas Worthington donned a bomb suit and entered the building. The fire department was also on-scene in case the situation took a turn for the worse.

By 7:49 Airmen Worthington and Broussard were exiting the fitness center, apparently no worse for wear, despite the inherent danger of their profession.

“I wasn’t nervous because I was just doing my job,” said Airman Worthington who opened the bag remotely using an EOD tool kit.

Though the little blue gym bag was suspicious, its contents were not the makings of an improvised explosive device. Instead, they were, “Deodorant, tennis shoes, a T-shirt and headphones,” said Senior Airman Broussard.

A gym bag in a locker room might seem commonplace, but safety is always a top priority.

“Almost everyone brings a gym bag to the Fitness Center, but it had been left unattended for a long time. We made an announcement and went room to room, but no one claimed it. We then decided to evacuate to be safe,” said Ms. Sparks.

The basketball game was canceled and is to be replayed.