June 30, 2008

Specialized Virginia Guard response force validated

By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

A member of the decontamination element evaluates a casualty to determine the best course of treatment for his injuries. Before he can be treated, the casualty must go through the decontamination line. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs) Click HERE to view more photos or to download high resolution photos.

BLACKSTONE, Va. — A special response force of the Virginia National Guard has been validated to provide support to first responders and civil authorities if the Commonwealth of Virginia was attacked with a high-explosive, chemical, radiological or nuclear weapon of mass destruction. The unit conducted an external evaluation at Fort Pickett June 26, and the evaluation team announced the results of the evaluation June 27.

The special response force, known as the CERF (pronounced “surf”), trained for months to prepare for the evaluation by the Joint Interagency Training Center. CERF stands for Chemical, Biological, Radiological/Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) - Enhanced Response Force. Soldiers and Airmen from units based in Richmond, Hampton, Norfolk, Danville, Virginia Beach, Bowling Green and Langley Air Force Base took part in the exercise.

The mission of the CERF is to provide immediate response capability to the Governor. The specially trained and equipped elements of the CERF are capable of searching an incident site that includes damaged and collapsed buildings, rescuing any casualties from rubble piles, decontaminating citizens injured in the attack and performing medical triage and initial treatment to stabilize them for transport to a medical facility. 

“The lead evaluator was very complimentary of our performance,” said Lt. Col. Todd Hubbard, commander of the CERF. Hubbard explained there were 16 major tasks the unit had to accomplish, and the CERF was rated fully trained on 15 and needed to practice further on one.

“We also exceeded the required total throughput of casualties during the exercise,” he said. “The lead evaluator said that we are ready and he would deploy with us anywhere.  I am very proud of the efforts of the CERF team.”

With the validation, the CERF is ready to respond in the event of a crisis. “There is no doubt the CERF is ready to respond,” said Col. Rob McMillin, director of joint operations for the Virginia National Guard. “The evaluators were very complimentary of the outstanding morale and professionalism of our Soldiers and Airmen. More importantly, they said they are fully confident that our CERF is fully capable of responding to a crisis, and they would be proud to serve beside them.”

Virginia’s CERF was authorized in June 2006. Since that time the Soldiers and Airmen of the CERF have undergone training and equipping to prepare them for their mission. The CERF, which is made up of approximately 250 Virginia Soldiers and Airmen, is unique in that it includes elements from several different units from across the state rather than one specific unit. 

Each element of the CERF has a specific mission: search and extraction, mass casualty decontamination, mass casualty triage and command and control.  The CERF command and control team directs the overall activities of the CERF and coordinates with the Joint Task Force and the incident commander.  

The units making up Virginia’s CERF include:

  • Command and control element from the Hampton-based Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery and Richmond-based 276th Engineer Battalion
  • Mass casualty decontamination element from Richmond and Norfolk-based Alpha and Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery; and the Roanoke and Danville-based 229th Chemical Company;
  • Search and extraction element from Virginia Beach-based 203d RED HORSE with the Bowling Green-based 189th Engineer Company
  • Mass casualty triage element from the 192nd Medical Group, Virginia Air National Guard stationed at Langley Air Force Base. 

The Virginia Defense Force was also an integral part of the CERF evaluation with over 100 volunteers supporting the unit with expertise in communications, structural engineering, fixed wing flight, triage, critical incident stress management and security. 

In the scenario for the external evaluation, the CERF responded to a chemical attack during a presidential inauguration. The extraction team simulated rescuing casualties from the Fort Pickett urban training site, and the command and control, decontamination and medical triage element set up their operations at the Blackstone Airfield.

More than 200 role players were on hand for the evaluation. To add to the realism, the role players were outfitted with Hollywood style make up to realistically present injuries the CERF might see in real life.

In the event of an attack with a weapon of mass destruction, the state would make a request to the Virginia Guard’s Joint Operations Center. From there, Soldiers and Airmen of the CERF would be put on state active duty and move to incident site and fall under control of the incident commander. In most situations, local authorities would have established some sort of decontamination site immediately after the attack, so the CERF would augment the existing site or establish a new site to increase the number of casualties that can be treated.

The CERF can also respond to incidents outside of Virginia under the terms agreed to in the Emergency Mutual Aid Compact or EMAC.  After arriving at the incident site, the command and control team and element commanders coordinate with the incident commander and Joint Task Force commander to determine how to most effectively employ the CERF.   

National Guard CERF Fact Sheet

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