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CERFP exercise prepares Medical Group

MASSACHUSETTS MILITARY RESERVATION, Otis Air National Guard Base, Mass -- More than 550 Army and Air National Guardsmen participated in a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high yield explosive (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) exercise June 23-25 at Camp Edwards in preparation for their evaluation in August.

"This is training for the real world," said Air Force Capt. Mary Newton of the Mass. CERFP medical team. "It is important for the entire team to come together so they can be prepared if called out."

The mission of the Mass. CERFP is to respond to CBRNE incidents or other catastrophic events and assist local, state and federal agencies. CERFPs locate and extract victims from a contaminated environment, perform mass patient/casualty decontamination, and provide treatment as necessary to stabilize patients for evacuation.

The CERFP teams are comprised of approximately 180 traditional National Guard Soldiers and Airmen who are trained and equipped to integrate into the National Incident Management System (NIMS). Each CERFP has four elements: casualty search and extraction (50 people), medical triage (45 people), decontamination (75 people), and fatality search and recovery (12 people).

This three-day exercise began with a day of set up and element-specific training, followed by two days of roll-player exercises involving the entire CERFP. Approximately ten Observer Controller/Trainers (OC/Ts) were present for the exercise. These OC/Ts travel state to state to assist in CERFP training and perform the evaluations.

During the exercise, the decontamination team had two lanes operating for casualties, both non-ambulatory and ambulatory, and one technical lane for decontaminating workers. They have been trained to be able to set up all of the stations and be operational to receive casualties within 90 minutes, said Army Sgt. 1st Class Shannon Braswell, a decontamination OC/T from Florida.

The decontamination element also held a relay race as a training activity on the first day. The element was divided into two teams, and one person from each team had to get properly dressed in their full contamination suits, then pick up a sand bag and run 50 meters and back before the next person could begin.

"The purpose of this relay was to covey the importance of putting on their equipment correctly, as well as quickly," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Falchek, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the element.

The medical element, comprised of Air National Guard members from the 102nd and 104th Medical Groups, participated in a mock-casualty exercise involving more than 20 role players. The role players were dressed in blue scrubs and were assigned index cards with specific details about their mock injuries. Special effects makeup artists created various wounds on the role players, making the casualties more realistic for the medical team to practice treating.

"Being a member of the CERFP is rewarding because you know that if something happens, there is a strong team," said Senior Airman Jenna Oleksak, a respiratory therapist from the 104th Fighter Wing and a member of the CERFP medical element. "We have good equipment and professionals who know their job. It's great to see people come together at the drop of a hat and learn to work together as a team. These exercises are great practice for the real world."

Along with the medical element, there are currently 11 extraction medics in the Mass. CERFP who fall under the fatality search and recovery team.

"In the case of a real emergency, our team is responsible for getting the victims accounted for and returning them to their families," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ron Perry, a member of the 104FW and the Fatality Search and Recovery Team (FSRT).

The FSRT accompanies the casualty search and extraction element when responding to an incident. The casualty search and extraction element consists of four smaller teams: breakage and breaching, ropes, shoring, and lifting and hauling. These smaller groups utilize their specific skills to relieve any trapped victims by safely managing the surroundings of the incident site.

The lifting and moving team worked together to move various cement blocks, approximately 1,000 pounds each. Their OC/T leader, Army Sgt. 1st Class Lee Glen from West Virginia, asked the group to get one cement block on top of another, larger block, using only wooden planks and wedges and metal rods and rollers.

"This team-building exercise is all about communication," Sgt. 1st Class Glen said. "There is no wrong way to do it, as long as it is done safely. Machinery is not always available. Working in emergency situations is all about problem solving and learning to think outside the box."

The tasks the CERFP performs are used both in military and civilian emergency incidents. This is a National Guard program because it is easier to activate local forces in emergency situations, Tech. Sgt. Perry said.

The Mass. CERFP activated to support Hurricane Irene in August 2011 and was stationed in Greenfield, Mass. This exercise was the first time the entire CERFP team had been back together since Hurricane Irene. The training they undergo is equally as important as the state mission they support, Capt. Newton said.

After the attacks of 9/11 and the Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, the government decided to increase the National Guard's capability of responding to CBRNE emergencies by creating the CERFP program. In 2010, the secretary of defense recommended that the National Guard Bureau create an additional task force for large-scale incidents with the capability to provide command and control (referred to as "C2") and security, which led to the creation of the Homeland Response Force (HRF).

Ten HRFs have been assigned, one per Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) region, and will all be fully operational by 2013. Along with the C2 brigade (180 people) and security element (200 people), the HRF includes a CBRNE force with elements featuring the same capabilities of the CERFP, totally more than 550 guardsmen for the commonwealth force.
Massachusetts has been selected as one of the host-states for the HRF. The CERFP program has continued to grow since it originated and will soon be officially integrated into HRF.

"The CERFP meets twice a year as a total force for field training exercises, but this was the first time training with the entire HRF," said Capt. Andy Mason, one of the operations officers. "It is important to utilize the training while everyone is together. The training is vital because we aid local civilian agencies in the real world. This exercise was a great stepping stone for the August evaluation."

In August, the Mass. CERFP/HRF team will be evaluated in order for them to be certified as the HRF for FEMA Region 1. We will announce the results in the September AirScoop.
"It is satisfying to see this program grow and succeed because we know that we have the resources and that civilians can rely on us," Capt. Mason said.

"This program is needed to protect and care for our soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines, and civilian personnel," said Army Capt. Billie Hoffman, a medical element OC/T from West Virginia. "This is the future."