May 19, 2011

Special Virginia Guard response forces train with local, state and federal partner agencies

By Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen        
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. — Soldiers and Airmen of the Virginia Guard's 34th Civil Support Team and Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear High Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package trained side by side with local, state and federal emergency response organizations May 17 to 19 in the Hampton Roads Full Scale Exercise. The training event brought together many different agencies to improve their interoperability in the event of a catastrophic event within the commonwealth, whether from a terrorist attack, a natural disaster or any other emergency.

 

Soldiers and Airmen from the Virginia National Guard's 34th Civil Support Team prepare to search for possible chemical or biological threats May 17 on board a ship in the James River near Fort Eustis during the Hampton Roads Full Scale Exercise. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Click HERE to view more photos on Flickr.

The exercise was designed to strengthen the commonwealth's anti-terrorism capabilities and test response efforts in maritime, hostage and mass causality scenarios.

"We have been doing a lot of exercises for many years we've been practicing for terrorism events in Virginia, and this is just one of the many series that we have been doing," said Bob Spieldenner, Virginia Department of Emergency Management public information officer. "We want to make sure that we are prepared no matter what, and we want to make sure that folks in Virginia to know that we take any threat seriously. No matter what happens, we'll be able to help out in times of need."

At the same time of the HRFSE, the Virginia National Guard conducted a four-day command and control exercise to train on existing emergency response plans, policies and procedures to ensure it can rapidly respond to the needs of the citizens of the commonwealth in their time of need. The exercise kicked off May 16 with more than 200 Soldiers, Airmen and members of the Virginia Defense Force operating out of the Guard's Joint Operations Center in Sandston.

 

Soldiers and Airmen from the Virginia National Guard's Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear High Yield Explosive Emergency Response Force Package, or CERFP, conduct search and rescue, mass decontamination, medical triage and treatment and fatality search and recovery operations May 18 in Suffolk, Va., during the Hampton Roads Full Scale Exercise. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Click HERE to view more photos on Flickr.

In the Virginia Guard's exercise scenario, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks lead to the Governor mobilizing the entire Virginia Guard to assist with the response. Command and control elements in the JOC simulated the employment of Guard forces across the state assisting with security and recovery operations, as well as working through the logistics issues to support those forces. With the exception of the Guard's two special response forces in the Hampton Roads area, all personnel outside of the JOC were simulated.

"Our primary focus is on decontamination, medical response and some search and extraction," said Command Sgt. Maj. Daryl Plude, senior enlisted Soldier of the CERFP. "This exercises our abilities. We need to come here fully ready and prepared to save lives.

"All of these exercises build our capacity and our capability. It is our practice, to make sure that when we actually show up at a real incident we are ready to go and we're going to save lives."

The three-day HRFSE simulated different response scenarios across the Hampton Roads area. The first day at Fort Eustis simulated a maritime terrorist threat where members of the 34th CST Hazard Material Team boarded a ship in the James River to search a terrorist chemical lab while the CERFP conducted decontamination and medical triage on a pier.

 

Tech Sgt. Kristie Revera and Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Smith from the D.C. Air National Guard's 113th Service Squadron Fatatlity Search and Remains Recovery Element, a detachment of the Virginia National Guard's Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear High Yield Explosive Emergency Response Force Package, search a building aftera simulated terrorist attack during the Hampton Roads Full Scale Exercise in Suffolk May 18. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Click HERE to view more photos on Flickr.

On the second day of the exercise, the CERFP provide support after a building barricaded by a hostile group had taken hostages and were using chemical agents on the victims.

The third day included a mass casualty event that required conduct of victim extraction operations, triage and treatment by the Soldiers of the CERFP. Approximately 75 actors played wounded hostages, while local, state, and military agencies responded accordingly.

"The exercise was very well planned out, and there are over 25 entities from local, state and federal agencies involved in the exercise with us," said Lt. Col. William Patton, commander of the 34th CST. "This looks good for the Virginia National Guard, and it looks good because the other agencies know that they can count on as a resource from the local community."

Based at Fort Pickett, the mission of the 34th CST is to support civil authorities at a domestic CBRNE incident site with identification and assessment of hazards, advice to civil authorities, and facilitating the arrival of follow-on military forces during emergencies and incidents of weapons of mass destruction terrorism. The unit complements and enhances, but does not duplicate, state CBRNE response capabilities.

It is comprised of 22 full-time Army and Air National Guard personnel. The unit is divided into six sections: command, operations, communications, administration/logistics, medical/analytical, and survey.

The 34th can deploy within 3 hours of notification to an incident site using its organic assigned vehicles which includes a command vehicle, operations trailer, a communications platform called the Unified Command Suite which provides a broad spectrum of secure communications capabilities, an Analytical Laboratory System vehicle that contains a full suite of analysis equipment to support the characterization of the hazard and several general purpose vehicles. The unit can also be moved by air, rail, commercial line haul or ship.

The CERFP (pronounced "surf-p") can conduct tasks associated with incident management, search and rescue, mass decontamination, medical triage and treatment and fatality search and recovery. The force is made up of Soldiers and Airmen from units based in Petersburg, West Point, Rocky Mount and Langley Air Force Base as well as the D.C. National Guard.

Virginia's CERFP was authorized in June 2006 and is made up of approximately 250 Virginia Guard Soldiers and Airmen. The units making up Virginia's CERFP include:

  • The command and control and incident management team from the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion.
  • The mass casualty decontamination element from the Rocky Mount-based 229th Chemical Company
  • The search and extraction element from West Point-based 237th Engineer Company.
  • The mass casualty medical triage and treatment element from the 192d Medical Group, Virginia Air National Guard stationed at Langley Air Force Base.
  • The fatality search and remains recovery element from the 113th Service Squadron from the DC National Guard.

The concept is that when an incident occurs, Guard personnel of the CERFP are alerted through the Joint Force Headquarters - Virginia and mobilized on state active duty. If the incident is located within Virginia they would proceed to the incident when directed by the Joint Force Headquarters. If the incident is located outside of Virginia, the Joint Force Headquarters - Virginia would coordinate with the receiving state under the terms agreed to in the Emergency Mutual Aid Compact. After arriving at the incident site, the incident management team and element commanders coordinate with and support the local incident commander.

Click HERE to return to the top of the page ~ Click HERE to return to the news directory