Army-Air Guard team earns certification in disaster-response exercise

  • Published
  • By Army Sgt. Taylor Tribble
  • 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Public Affairs
More than 200 Airmen and Soldiers from the Kentucky National Guard have successfully completed a certification exercise here that tested their ability to respond to real-world crises involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive agents.

Air Force Lt. Col. Kevin Howard said the exercise provided an extremely realistic scenario for the specialized team, which is called a CERFP — short for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package.

The exercise, held Jan. 7-10, gave team members “a chance to evaluate our skillsets and see what our weaknesses are and where we need to improve,” added Howard, a physician in the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Medical Group, Detachment 1 CERFP.

The CERFP was tasked with responding to a 10-kiloton nuclear explosion, establishing a support zone, searching the hot zone for victims, extracting and decontaminating them, and providing medical assistance. Once the search and extraction team went in, they assessed the area and marked locations that would require specialty teams, including breech and break, lift and haul, and ropes.

According to Air Force Master Sgt. Nikki Wilson, medical administration non-commissioned officer in charge for the CERFP, the unexpected nature of the job means that troops can’t practice for every scenario, but learning to work together minimizes limitations.

“The civilians, the firefighters, the police, the National Guard, Army and Air — we all have to come together to respond to the incident,” Wilson said. “If we’re ever deployed to a real-world scenario within the homeland, it’s going to be a really bad day. We practice for the worst-case scenario so that when the chaos does happen, where the joint services need to combine, we’ll be ready.”

Once extracted from the disaster zone, victims were sorted into ambulatory and non-ambulatory and sent through decontamination lines. After being washed and decontaminated, victims were greeted by Air Guard medical teams to be assessed and treated.

On evaluation day, there were live role players as well as mannequins that were staged in the hot zone and around the rubble pile, which simulated a fallen structure. Each live role player had a simulated injury and a story line they were supposed to follow.

“I think it’s important as a first responder to know how to respond to different cultures, different needs and different individuals,” said Jennifer Tozzo, a simulated victim and civilian first responder. “Being a role player also helps the victims to be able to respond better to medical personnel should something happen.”

Tozzo brought her service dog with her to train the decontamination line on how to react to that type of situation. She also knows sign language and used that in one of the scenarios.

“Our EXEVAL couldn’t have gone better,” said Army Lt. Col. Jessicah Garrett, Kentucky National Guard CERFP commander. “We were successful because of the dedication our Soldiers and Airmen have to Kentucky and to the mission. I am so proud of each individual on our team.”

(Air Force Staff Sgt. Joshua Horton contributed information for this article.)