By Maj. Matt BaldwinApril 19, 2017
CAMP MURRAY, WA - A man screams out in pain as he applies pressure to a wound on his head. Another wanders aimlessly about trying to get assistance from a soldier wearing a chemical suit. A woman desperately tries to find her missing children. The whole scene looked like something on the set of a Hollywood movie. Except this was no movie.
More than 330 Washington National Guard Soldiers and Airmen participated in a Homeland Response Force (HRF) exercise at the Spokane Readiness Center Apr. 7-9, 2017. Role players added 75 local civilians to the exercise to give the disaster scenario a sense of realism and urgency.
This HRF collective training exercise provided a necessary rehearsal before the upcoming two-week annual training in June 2017 when a certification exercise for the HRF will be conducted at the Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center in Warrenton, OR.
"Typically, as a rule of thumb, every two years, the Homeland Response Force will do an exercise evaluation," said Lt. Col. Joshua B. King, an officer with the Joint Interagency Training and Education Center (JITEC). An external organization conducts the validation evaluations, and this year it is being done by the JITEC out of Saint Albans, WV.
The National Guard Bureau has established the external evaluation process with stated interagency requirements. "Our evaluations get rolled up, and we will say, yes, this unit is ready to do their mission or not, and our reports go up the chain of command from there," said King.
At the Spokane Readiness Center, mass casualty ambulatory and non-ambulatory decontamination, search and extraction methods were practiced. Skills were honed in medical triage, casualty stabilization and fatality search and recovery. Service members learned to set up and take down decontamination equipment and triage tents by doing it over and over again.
"I think of what we are doing now as the crawl to walk phase, training to get ready for the EXEVAL in June," said 1st Lt. Brien Waldron, officer in charge of the CBRNE Assistance Support Element. Known as CASE, with approximately 200 soldiers, this element augments law enforcement in a state active duty or Title 32 duty status.
The first letter in the acronym, CASE, once stood for "Casualty," but the "C" has been changed to stand for CBRNE.
"The CASE is not just a security team. They do a lot more," said Waldron. "They help keep the casualties organized, bring them in and flow them through the decontamination area. And there are medical teams that go beyond the exclusionary line. They go back into the danger area where they can triage people and put a priority of order on them. That way we know which ones to evacuate first."
The training had many prerequisites. All of the Service members assigned to the HRF and CASE teams complete FEMA's Incident Command System training. "These courses provide an understanding of the chain of command, who is in charge and how we send reports up that chain in these situations," said Waldron.
In addition to recognizing hazardous materials, skills needed include knowing how to wear protective equipment, understanding the containment of hazardous materials and what procedures to follow when entering a hazardous area.
"We learn to know the different kinds of chemical environments and what possible contaminants are out there," said Waldron. "Basically, once we do all that we are certified to begin the training, and we come and do a collective training exercise like this with many different forces and organizations, going through everything they need to be doing. It is like an open book test, so we know exactly what we will be graded on in June."
Early Saturday at the Spokane Readiness Center, the security team set up a perimeter. Barriers were raised around a cleared zone to help funnel casualties. A decontamination team set up their wash and redress tents, and the medical teams are ready to do their triage.
"I'm here to observe, to take notes, to teach and train, and to talk," said Chief Warrant Officer Two Robert Taylor, a JITEC evaluator. He explains why a few service members are wearing protective masks and are stringing black wires across the lot. "They are wearing their chemical masks down until they have tested the alarms, making sure that the site is indeed clear, and then all of the trucks are going to start up, and that is when you are going to see a lot of movement," said Taylor.
They set up and sustain operations. "Do the casualty processing," said Taylor. "Get folks cleaned up, get them triaged, and then send them to a medical facility, which could be a field hospital set up by the Red Cross or one of the local hospitals."
Realism was added to the scenario by 75 casualty role-players presenting a wide variety of mock injuries. Contracted make-up artists worked to have symptoms appear as realistic as possible. These enhancements provided the training for first responders in treating and triaging patients.
"It gives them a chance to train more," said Stacy Morehouse, owner of Extreme Co., which is subcontracted by the Virginia-based staffing service, Human Domain Solutions, LLC.
"This frees them up for training, and they won't know in advance what injuries are being put out there," said Morehouse. "It helps develop skills that hopefully they will not need anytime soon."