D.C. Air National Guard Search & Recovery Team aces evaluation
By Airman 1st Class Anthony Small, 113th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 19, 2015
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- The D.C. Air National Guard special disaster-response team concluded a week of training with a final evaluation exercise in order to be certified by the Defense Department, May 11-16.
The Guardsmen successfully completed the training tasks required to achieve Chemical, Biological, Radiological/Nuclear and High Yield Explosive - Enhanced Response Force Package validation according to DOD standards.
A key section of that response was the DC Air Guard's Fatality Search and Recovery Team, whose mission is to locate and recover the remains of victims killed in hostile action or natural disasters.
"This is a unique capability that only the Air National Guard possesses, and it's an essential capability for domestic support operations," said Master Sgt. Dan Marx, 113th FSRT NCO in Charge. "This skill will allow us to provide short notice assistance to local, state and federal agencies."
The training and evaluation was staged at the Virginia Fire Training Center, a unique facility that features a robust assortment of training environments, including collapsed buildings and structures.
"The Virginia Fire Training Center is a pretty impressive facility," said Tech. Sgt. Jeremiah Smith Team Bravo Lead 113th Wing's FSRT. "The disaster area has buildings that have been reduced to piles of rubble. It's about as realistic as you can get."
The mission of CERFP is to respond to CBRNE incidents and assist local, state and federal agencies in conducting consequence management by providing capabilities to perform patient decontamination, emergency medical services and casualty search and extraction.
"The team has special training and equipment that allow them to operate in a wide spectrum of hazardous environments, including those contaminated by biological, nuclear or chemical agents," said Marx.
While the protective gear includes a battery-operated air purification system, the suits themselves are not ventilated, and ambient temperatures during the exercise hovered in the mid-80s, Marx said, requiring careful management of work-rest cycles.
By the time they finish donning their suits, our team members have about 20 minutes to work, Marx said. "So that's 20 minutes to get into the hot zone, do what you need to do, and come back out. The warmer it is, the longer it takes to recover remains. High temperatures make for a very time-consuming process."
Even with the high temperatures and intense environment the 113th Wing's FSRT achieved their mission.
"The recovery process went extremely well, despite the heat and intense environment," said Smith.
Another challenge was the presence of simulated ambulatory survivors, courtesy of more than 40 actors who were hired to add a dose of unpredictable realism to the scenario.
"This exercise really gave us a new realization of what we should expect in a real-world situation," said Marx."We're going to have news media and the civilian community watching us while we perform our mission, and some of those civilians are going to want and need help."
For the 113th Wing's FSRT, that kind of awareness may be the most valuable lesson learned during the training and evaluation.
"This training was important, It gave us a real foothold on exactly what our purpose is with respect to homeland defense, and how intense it can get," said Senior Airman Dominique Comer Alpha Team Lead 113th Wing's FSRT. "It's a dirty job but someone has to get the victims back to their families"