GREAT FALLS, Montana - Whether its sunshine and clear skies or high winds in artic temperatures, natural disasters can occur anytime with little to no warning. The most important aspect of natural disasters is being able to respond to and mitigate any loss of lives or property damage. That is the goal of the numerous Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) teams strategically spread throughout the country.

The Oregon National Guard's CERFP recently teamed up with the Montana National Guard to practice and enhance their skills during exercise Vigilant Guard 18 in Great Falls, Montana, March 3-9, 2018.

Vigilant Guard is a United States Northern Command and National Guard Bureau sponsored exercise program. Exercises are held in a different state each year. These exercises help National Guard personnel refine their response for domestic operations and build a closer relationship with community and state disaster response departments.

Vigilant Guard provided Oregon Guardsmen with many scenario and real-world training opportunities as they were placed in a new climate and environment. The exercise required Oregon and Montana National Guardsmen to respond to a simulated earthquake and mass flooding which led to contamination.

"We do not get a lot of opportunities to train in cold climates like this, so this opportunity has allowed our team to develop and broaden their skill sets," said Oregon Army National Guard Sgt. Joseph Johnson, ambulatory decontamination team leader with Oregon's CERFP.

The Oregon CERFP team is made up of both Army and Air National Guardsmen, from the Army Guard's 3670th Component Repair Company and Air Guard's 142nd Medical Group, 142nd Fighter Wing, who specialize in disaster response. Combined, the CERFP's capabilities include decontamination, search and extraction, mass casualty triage, medical response and overall command and control.

"We have done CERFP long enough with the Army that we are truly one service and one fight," said Oregon Air National Guard Maj. Chris Webb, deputy commander of the Oregon CERFP. "Our teams no longer see each other as green or blue and instead as one singular CERFP family and team."

In December the Oregon Army National Guard's 821st Troop Command Battalion took over the entire mission of CERFP except for the medical response portion.

"Some of our new personnel were not fully trained yet, so this exercise has been a fantastic opportunity to get our new guys trained and up to the level they need to be," said Lt. Col. Cary Gilman, battalion commander of 821st Troop Command. "Our CERFP team's training is well ahead of where we should be and I am highly motivated that we are going to be one of the best teams in the nation soon."

Oregon brought a total of 187 personnel to this exercise and was able to setup multiple response operation areas in different regions of Montana. Oregon Army National Guard Capt. Tony Bagnall, the exercise battle captain for the tactical operations center, said the integration and facilitation with the Montana National Guardsmen was practically seamless.

"As the exercise played out, our ability to communicate and handle any emergency recovery situations greatly improved," said Bagnall.

Many Montana Guardsmen were mixed in with the Oregon CERFP and tackled the challenges of the exercise together.

"Air and Army medics always work well together and it was great knowing that Oregon's CERFP was eager to support us," said Montana Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Brianna Howse, an aerospace medical technician with 120th Airlift Wing, 120th Medical Group.