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National Guard CBRN incident response tested at regional exercise

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Susan Penning
  • 193rd Special Operations Wing
Tens of thousands of Scouts, volunteers and staff met recently at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia to celebrate the National Scout Jamboree. As the mammoth crowd busied themselves with recreational activities, they were unaware their safety was being positively impacted by another event of epic proportions taking place nearby.

Over the past five years, the Defense Department and National Guard have worked together to establish 10 robust regional homeland response force units throughout the country to improve response time and life-saving capability should chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive situations occur.

The Federal Emergency Response Agency's Region III HRF unit, established in 2011 and hosted in Pennsylvania, got its first chance to test its mettle during an exercise held in conjunction with the Scout jamboree. Although the jamboree wasn't the primary reason for the exercise, it provided a venue for members of the HRF to prepare for logistically while also offering standby support.

"This particular exercise involved deploying a CERFP (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear enhanced response force package) centered on medical support, search and extraction, and decontamination," said Capt. Nathan Snee, regional medical planner for the FEMA Region III HRF.

CERFPs are typically composed of National Guard units trained to respond to weapons of mass destruction incidents. Their capabilities include locating and extracting victims from a contaminated environment, performing mass patient/casualty decontamination, and providing medical treatment to stabilize patients for evacuation.

According to Captain Snee, the recent exercise focused on delivering military personnel and equipment from multiple locations (within Region III) to the exercise location. The HRF was then evaluated on criteria such as planning, training and response time.

"In collaboration with the 171st Medical Group, 111th Medical Group and 193rd Special Operations Medical Group, the medical element deployed about 50 personnel; five trucks and five medical trailers; medical supplies - including ventilators, beds, stabilization and advanced life support equipment; tents; generators; and operations and logistics equipment," Captain Snee said.

Both Airmen and Soldiers from the Pennsylvania National Guard participated in the exercise. In addition, the 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg, W.V., provided the aircraft and crew to transport much of the equipment.

"This air movement was the first of its kind via a C-5 Galaxy, with the planning process beginning months prior to the movement," said Captain Snee. "Key players in the planning and execution were the Pennsylvania CERFP, the Aerial Delivery Squadron and Travel Management Office from the 193rd Special Operations Wing, West Virginia Air National Guard Headquarters and the 167th Airlift Wing.

Personnel and supplies arrived at the 167th AW via plane, and also convoyed by ground movement to Camp Dawson, Kingwood, W.V., to participate in the exercise. Once on location, HRF members trained for four days using a combination of in-classroom and field training. According to Captain Snee, this involved establishing a footprint to provide life-saving capabilities to aid civilian responders if called upon, and providing didactic, patient-centered medical training.

Summing up the exercise, Pennsylvania CERFP members said they were able to effectively train and also developed the knowledge and capability necessary to meet mission requirements.

"This heat-filled week of in-field training not only challenged the team mentally, but also physically," said Captain Snee. "Fortunately, the Pennsylvania CERFP executed an exercise only and was able to return home without being activated."