June 17, 2010

West Point-based Engineers prepare for CERFP external evaluation

By Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

FORT PICKETT, Va.—The West Point-based 237th Engineer Company rehearsed their confined space, search and extraction, shoring, breaching and breaking, and rope extraction missions at Fort Pickett’s military operations in urban terrain site from June 5-11 in preparation for an upcoming external evaluation June 18 at the Henrico Fire Academy where they work in conjunction with more than 350 emergency responders.


A Soldier from the 237th Engineer Company uses an acetylene torch to cut through steel during a search and rescue operation at Fort Pickett June 10. The Soldiers discovered several role-player casualties while searching the rubble pile during the exercise. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

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“We’re down here this week proving our skills and doing our final last shakedown,” said Capt. Jonathan York, commander of the 237th.

The Soldiers of the 237th have been training at Fort Pickett for their two-week annual training period with the exeval as the culmination. They have been training as a key element of the commonwealth’s Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear High Yield Explosive Emergency Response Force Package, known as the CERFP (pronounced surf-p).

“It’s a homeland security mission we have here in Virginia,” said York. “We assist the local authorities whenever there is any type of natural disaster or man made incident that happens within the commonwealth of Virginia and beyond.”

“Having these capabilities within the commonwealth will give the first-responders and civil authorities’ additional enhancements to conduct a myriad of operations in multiple environments including chemical, biological, and radiological affected areas to rescue citizens of the commonwealth.”

The CERFP can conduct tasks associated with search and extraction, mass decontamination, medical triage and treatment and incident management. The force is made up of Soldiers and Airmen from units based in Richmond, West Point, Hampton, Norfolk, Rocky Mount, Danville, Virginia Beach, and Langley Air Force Base.


A Soldier from the 237th Engineer Company uses high tech equipment to search for survivors in a rubble pile after a simulated disaster during annual training June 10 at Fort Pickett. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

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While at Fort Pickett, the 237th had the opportunity to test their skills and equipment in actual rubble and debris piles at the MOUT site where Soldiers portraying trapped victims lay waiting to be discovered and rescued by the unit.

“This is some of the most realistic training these Soldiers have ever done,” York said. “The facilities here at the MOUT site are outstanding. We have all the equipment and tools that we would be using during a real incident.

While maneuvering across the rubble pile, the Soldiers donned full suits complete with hoods, boots, masks, gloves and respirators to protect them from potentially contaminated environments while searching the area for potential survivors. They used equipment such as thermal imagers, acoustic listening devices, specialized pole/snake cameras, acetylene torches, pneumatic scissors or “the jaws of life”, jackhammers and sledgehammers to locate and free the victims from their simulated confinements.

“We got fully suited up and went out there,’ said Spc. Darrell Busquets, a Soldier in the 237th. “We are the recon team, so we’re the first ones out conducting reconnaissance and making sure that we find who is alive and prioritize the likelihood of them surviving, and getting the rescue team out here as soon as possible.”

The Soldiers of the 237th understand the magnitude of their role in these operations and are fully ready to respond in case of a serious natural disaster or should the commonwealth witness another terrorist attack as it did on Sept. 11, 2001.

“We have plenty of examples of why [we train for this]. The Oklahoma City bombing is a good example,” said Busquets. “At the World Trade Center they had a lot of individuals go up there and dig through rubble piles.”

“We are always expecting another event to occur and it’s always good to be trained prior to the event.”

“The question isn’t if, but when another incident will occur. As Guardsmen of the Commonwealth we must be vigilant and stand ready to answer our citizen’s call in their darkest hour,” York said.

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