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Medical Airmen train in Puerto Rico during Vigilant Guard

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tony Harp
  • 193rd Special Operations Wing

Medical personnel Airmen from the Pennsylvania Air National Guard participated in the disaster relief exercise Vigilant Guard March 12-13 at Camp Santiago in Salinas, Puerto Rico. 

Vigilant Guard is a U.S. Northern Command and National Guard Bureau-sponsored event. This year it was held in multiple locations across Puerto Rico.

The PaANG Airmen were attached to the 3rd Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Task Force out of Fort Indiantown Gap, Annville, Pennsylvania. The majority of Airmen participating in the event are assigned to the 193rd Special Operations Medical Group Detachment 1, which provides medical support to the 3rd CRBN Task Force.

The vision of the exercise was to “deploy an external team to Puerto Rico to provide personnel support to fall onto their equipment,” according Maj. Nathan Snee, a medical operations and planning officer with the 193rd SOMDG Det 1. “Basically there was a hurricane that came through, caused mass devastation, destruction within the scenario. Our team was to come in and conduct a relief in place to provide them personnel support for continuity of operations.” 

During the first day, the 3rd CBRN TF utilized their Puerto Rican counterparts’ equipment and completed disaster relief efforts. The second day saw most of the 3rd CBRN TF members being integrated with the Puerto Rico teams and providing the same operations as the previous day. The remainder of the 3rd CBRN TF members completed wide-area search training scenarios.

“We expected to flawlessly integrate with Puerto Rico and provide the support they requested,” said Snee. “We expected them to fall onto their equipment and execute operations just like it’s our own, and that’s what they did.”

Maj. Diana Peña, the CRBN Enhanced Response Force Package medical planner officer with the Puerto Rico ANG, discussed the importance of working together with the Pennsylvania Airmen.   

“It is always a great opportunity to work together with other groups because we obtain the chance to interchange knowledge on how others performs the same tasks we perform,” said Peña. “This gives us a new perspective of how we can  adjust our work. In a real-world scenario, we will be working together with others so this definitely gives us the opportunity to interact together.”

“Our primary focus was collapsed structure, so simulating a building collapse, which involves breaking, breaching and entering into a rubble pile to secure any victims or casualties of the destruction,” said Snee. “The second course of action was for wide-area search. That pretty much covered a great amount of distance on the ground. It didn’t involve much of any breaking or breaching, just going from building to building marking and finding casualties.” 

“The medical element primary focus is force health protection, and to save lives and mitigate suffering of civilians and military members alike,” said Snee. “We provide in-field emergency care and stabilization of casualties for immediate evacuation.” 

Medical Airmen are integrated throughout the 3rd CBRN TF. Search and extraction medics  move up and integrate with the Army National Guard S&E personnel to do the breaking and breaching and the wide-area search said Snee. There are also Airmen who set up at casualty collection points to evaluate incoming victims and casualties, and assign priority through the use of triage cards. 

Inside the footprint, there are four medical tents set up. Two are butted together to serve as a field medical hospital which provides in-the-field stabilization, bandaging and patient tracking, said Snee. Another tent is used for the medical monitoring of Airmen, Soldiers and other workers involved with the operations. This is to ensure that when workers come off the line, they are fit to return to duty. The last tent is the log-out tent, designed to treat minor injuries and prepare for evacuation.

Medics from the 193rd SOMDG and a physician from the 111th Attack Wing supplemented the Det 1 team. The 171st Air Refueling Wing also supplied Airmen for the Fatality Search and Recovery Team that was involved in the exercise.

“We were able to work through any equipment issues or any kind of hand off of equipment that might have been a limiting factor going into it,” said Snee. “They [Puerto Rico] had liaisons, so people assisting us through the whole entire setup truly helped us out. I think ultimately overall, it was a successful event. It shows our capability can be brought across borders.