Kentucky National Guard trains for multiple threat emergencies

Story and photos by Sgt. 1st Class Brad Staggs, Atterbury-Muscatatuck Public Affairs

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Members of the Kentucky Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package decontamination element transport a mock victim for medical assessment during training at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Butlerville, Ind., March 22, 2013. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brad Staggs, Atterbury-Muscatatuck Public Affairs)

MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. (4/1/13) – For today’s Soldiers and Airmen, the more realistic their training, the better prepared in the event of an actual situation they’ll be.

For the Kentucky National Guard’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package, or CERFP, the training center here provides a realistic urban scenario where CERFP team members can hone their existing skills and then teach them to new volunteers.

“We’re training a lot of new folks,” said Lt. Col. Lance Grebe, commander of the CERFP. “We’re working on the crawl, walk, run phases. Yesterday was slow, today is a walk phase, and tomorrow should be full run.”

In 2004, the National Guard created 12 CERFP teams. The purpose of those teams is to conduct life-saving actions in a contaminated environment. Today, those CERFP teams have grown to 17 across the United States.

Each team consists of up to 180 Soldiers and Airmen working together in five elements. Each team has a command and control section; a decontamination element; a medical element; a casualty search and extraction element; and a fatalities search and recovery element.

Search and recovery is handled primarily by the Army National Guard, while most medical duties fall to the Air National Guard. For the Kentucky CERFP, that includes the 123rd Airlift Wing, 301st Chemical Company, 299th Chemical Co., and the 103rd Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment.

The CERFP is a quick reaction force, expected to begin rescue operations very soon after receiving the call, Grebe said.

“Our recall time is six hours,” he said. “Once we shake the hand of the incident commander, the clock starts and we have two hours” to be set up and working.

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Members of the Kentucky CERFP breaching and breaking team learn how to use a jackhammer safely to get through concrete in order to rescue a victim following a disaster during training at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Butlerville, Ind., March 22, 2013. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brad Staggs, Atterbury-Muscatatuck Public Affairs)

The Kentucky CERFP was validated during an exercise at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in May 2012 when they shattered the previous set-up time record. The team received their validation, and left confident that their training methods would be used by other CERFP teams.

First Lt. Charles Brannon has only recently begun serving as officer-in-charge of search and extraction.

“We’re just learning the process for setting up and extracting people from a hot zone,” Brannon said. “That could be anything from a nuclear disaster to a natural disaster that we are responding to.”

The environment at Muscatatuck creates the perfect place for CERFP to train because of the rubble piles and training venues that simulate buildings and infrastructure following a disaster.

During training, a reconnaissance team may be sent out to observe the site and find victims. Following reconnaissance operations, follow-on teams will begin rescue operations. Breaching and breaking teams, for instance, provide access to trapped victims. Shoring teams ensure walls that are in danger of falling don’t tumble down on victims or rescuers. A ropes team might be called on to rappel into areas to retrieve victims. And lift-and-haul teams are available to move large objects away from victims.

All teams must work in synch to ensure victims are rescued and sent to the waiting medical teams in the “warm” and “cold” zones, which are sometimes miles away from the “hot” zone. Long tents are set up and put together to create a conveyer belt system that takes the victim through several necessary steps.

Decontamination is handled first in the warm zone. Once personnel are assured that the victim has no chemical or radioactive signature, proper medical care can be given in the cold zone.

“I’m confident that if they called me today, I would have no problem taking this unit out to help people,” Grebe concluded. “Handling an emergency is all we train for. We’ll be there if our neighbors need us.”