September 24, 2008

Virginia units ready to act during Pentagon's 9/11 ceremony

By Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

Tech Sgt. Aldeena Harris loads "red bags" on the truck before departing from Fort Myer, Va. The bags contain the Soldiers' and Airmen's powered air purifying respirators to protect breathing in case the air becomes contaminated. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

FORT MYER, Va. — Thanks to “behind the scenes” assistance from Soldiers and Airmen of the Virginia National Guard, President Bush honored those who perished in the terrorist attacks of 9/11 with a memorial at the Pentagon on the seventh anniversary of the event.

The Virginia Guard deployed Soldiers and Airmen to Fort Myer, Va., to respond in case of an emergency during the memorial dedication ceremony.  The servicemembers, who are a part of a joint unit referred to as a CERF, which stands for Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, high yield explosive Enhanced Response Force, were on standby during the ceremony.

Also standing by to provide support to the Pentagon Force Protection Agency were Soldiers and Airmen of the 34th Civil Support Team from Virginia and the 32nd CST from Maryland.

According to Army Maj. Terry L. Thiem, deputy commander of the 34th CST, the CSTs are specially trained and equipped to assist local, state, and federal emergency response organizations with state of the art equipment. They also have a technical reach-back capability to other experts who may assist the local response.

“The event provided an excellent opportunity not only to integrate multiple CSTs with an operational unit such as PFPA, but also to liaison with the Joint Task Force National Capitol Region and National Guard Bureau J-staff,” Thiem said. “The joint CSTs exercised critical information and communication links that would be used if there was an actual terrorist event in the Washington, D.C. area.”

Soldiers and Airmen from the Virginia CERF and the 34th CST were on hand in case their expertise was needed. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The troops staged in a discreet area in close proximity to the Pentagon and were ready to respond at a moment’s notice. Fortunately, the Guardsmen never had to react that day, but their ability to stand up the unit on short notice is a testament to the CERF’s ability to react in timely fashion should the requirement arise.

“We exceeded all expectations on the alert and the unit’s first deployment as a CERF,” said Army Lt. Col. Todd Hubbard, 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery commander.

The CERF was in contact with units from the Military District of Washington, PFPA, Arlington County Fire Department, and JTF-NCR. The collaboration with these agencies showcases the capability of the Virginia National Guard to work hand-in-hand with civilian first-responders, according to Army Capt. Shawn Talmadge, decontamination commander, and battalion chief for Hanover Fire-EMS Department.

“Not only can we do our Soldier skills, but we can integrate with our civilian brothers,” said Talmadge. “The Commonwealth is safer because the National Guard is being pro-active in developing capable emergency response teams to support civilian authorities.”

“We have ready, relevant forces to help Virginia be resilient against disaster,” said Talmadge.

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