‘We show up on people’s worst days’: 113th FSS receives national FSRT certification

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Arthur Wright
  • 113th Wing D.C. Air National Guard

A powerful explosion has ravaged a manufacturing plant multiple states away, leveling numerous buildings, and spewing miles of debris like confetti. An active search is still underway for potentially dozens of missing workers and neighboring residents, according to a plant spokesperson.

“Our primary mission is fatality, search and recovery. We specialize in helping families find closure by reuniting them with their loved ones. We humbly execute our mission with care and precision,” said 1st Lt. Tia Forte Godwin, 113th Wing D.C. Air National Guard Force Support Squadron’s officer-in-charge (OIC).

Forte Godwin is referring to a training scenario as a newly certified member of the 113th Force Support Squadron’s Fatality Search and Recovery Team (FSRT). The 11-person team has approximately 24 to 72 hours to respond to a myriad of disasters from natural to Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosives (CBRNE) that occur in the United States.

“We’re not only skilled for search and recovery, but hazmat as well, we are trained to execute in various chemical/hazardous environments. We are equipped with Level C PPE and chemical and hazard detection equipment.” Forte Godwin said. “Due to the unique nature of our mission, we have a lot of equipment we must maintain to ensure the success of our mission and to operate in our full capacity.”

D.C. Air National Guard members conducted CBRNE response training alongside the Virginia National Guard, at Virginia Beach Fire Training Center, May 15th - 25th, 2023. As part of the 34th CBRNE Response Force Package, members were tested on incident site communications, urban search and rescue, mass casualty decontamination, technical decontamination, medical triage and stabilization and fatality management. The evaluation and certification is required every three years and approximately a dozen Guard units hold a national certification.

“There’s different types of chemical explosions and scenarios, and everyday things change,” said Senior Airman Destiny Melendez, 113th Wing D.C. Air National Guard Force Support Squadron member. “A lot of teamwork and coordination is required, as we work with other military branches, as well as federal, state, and local responders. Every FSRT unit and responder is required to be certified, as we operate under conditions that require the embodiment of a warrior spirit. Throughout our mission and training, we are monitored by medical and receive religious and psychological support.”

With each mission comes risk, and improperly donning and doffing personal protective equipment (PPE) in a chemical hazard zone can have irreversible consequences, even death.

“We’re putting ourselves at risk in every situation, and it’s important that we properly execute our mission, including don and doff our suits – we could literally lose one of our own members, which is why the evaluation and certification is so important,” said Forte Godwin. “The most essential aspect of our mission is working safely as a team for the protection of ourselves and everyone person on the footprint.”

While the FSERT certification lasts three years, 113th FSS trains every six months on CBRNE response. Members are also tasked with sustainment and mortuary affairs.

“Our job is not for the faint of heart because you’re dealing with people who lost loved ones, and you’re tasked to treat remains with respect at all times – so that families can have closure,” Melendez said. “We show up on people’s worst days, and we treat this responsibility with a lot of honor and respect.”

“We are a small unit with a large impact. The members of FSRT are multi-capable and domestically prepared. It is truly an honor to be a member of the D.C. Air National Guard Fatality Search and Recovery Team,” added Forte Godwin.