Kentucky units’ unique skillsets on display at Knox

By Sgt. 1st Class Rebecca Wood, 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade

Members of Kentucky’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) and the 41st Civil Support Team work to extract a simulated casualty during a disaster scenario exercise at the Zussman Range on Fort Knox, Ky. Dec. 1, 2016. The large-scale exercise brought the Guardsmen together with local first responders to sharpen interoperability in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. First Class Rebecca Wood).

Members of Kentucky’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) and the 41st Civil Support Team work to extract a simulated casualty during a disaster scenario exercise at the Zussman Range on Fort Knox, Ky. Dec. 1, 2016. The large-scale exercise brought the Guardsmen together with local first responders to sharpen interoperability in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Rebecca Wood).

FORT KNOX, Ky. — Kentucky’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) and the 41st Civil Support Team (CST) sharpened their skills in an unique environment from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, at the Zussman Range on Fort Knox.

Zussman Range is located 40 minutes outside of the containment area of Fort Knox and according to National Defense Magazine is known as one of the most realistic urban training grounds in the nation since it opened in 1999. The 30-acre Eastern European style city is littered with old rusted vehicles, random broken household items and debris, which gives it a post-battle– or in the CERFP’s case– a post-natural disaster feel to it.

The Kentucky CERFP Commander Lt. Col. James Hatfield said this exercise is unique for his Soldiers and airmen for two reasons. First, the Kentucky CERFP has never trained with the Kentucky CST before, and secondly those who participated in exercise were not given all the information up front.

“The Kentucky CERFP is a mature organization that has trained in many different scenarios,” said Hatfield. “We really have to start thinking outside of the box in training our Guardsmen and so in this scenario, they didn’t arrive in two days after an earthquake like in the past. Instead, they arrive almost immediately afterwards and work in more of a first responder role.”

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The exercise kicked off with highly specialized personnel from the CST sent in, wearing protective suits and carrying a re-breather air tank, to detect and identify any CBRNE substances in the affected area. When finished going through every room of every building assigned to them, they advise local authorities, first responders and if activated, the CERFP and other mutual aid organizations on how to best respond and manage the situation.

“Once we make sure its safe, we will fall in with the CERFP role when they start doing search and entry, “ said Master Sgt. Scott Earl, the 41st CST Reconnaissance Noncommissioned Officer in charge. “If they encounter something outside of their personal protective equipment’s (PPE) capability, then we will be able to go in as needed and help identify and mitigate the hazard so they can go back in and operate safety at the level of PPE they have.”

Earl also said when the CST isn’t training, they work full time handling calls from the FBI, United Postal Service and other agencies or organizations, which may have suspicious mail or packages come their way. Any such work or training is viewed as an invaluable opportunity to hone their unique skillset.

After the CST, the CERFP sends out their Search and Extract Teams (S&E). The teams are divided into subgroups that do reconnaissance; loads and lifts; breach and break; and ropes. Their mission is to safely transfer the victims and casualties out of the affected area. All the team members are trained on the other teams’ missions in case someone can’t deploy with the CERFP in the six-hour emergency window.

When S&E finds a victim, they deliver them to the CERFP Decontamination tent where they are checked in, triaged into ambulatory and non-ambulatory patients, washed, rinsed, redressed and logged out. Afterwards they are either released to go where they want or if needed transported to medical.

The Kentucky CERFP Decontamination Officer in Charge, 1st Lt. Justin Gilliam is from the 299th Chemical Company. On the civilian side, he is a police officer and understands how CERFP personnel and equipment can be great assets to first responders.

“If and when CERFP is activated, we are the incident commander and first responders to be used,” said Gilliam. “If we arrive on scene and they don’t need medical, decon or search and extract teams–but maybe more numbers to help in a wide area search for victims, then we will not hesitate to link up with firefighters and police officers to conduct a search. We are there to plus up their numbers and equipment in order to benefit first responders.”

The Kentucky CERFP is one out of several CERFPs that stood up after 9/11 when Homeland Security saw a need to sync first responders and the National Guard into one reaction force. There is a CERFP in every FEMA region and in almost every state designed to plus up first responder’s efforts in case of a man-made or natural disaster.