JOINT BASE CAPE COD, Maine - Soldiers from the 521st Troop Command Battalion of the Maine Army National Guard traveled to Joint Base Cape Cod May 14-17 to take part in a CERFP training and certification exercise in cooperation with hundreds of National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
CERFP stands for CBRN Enhanced Response Force Package and CBRN stands for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear. The team is created to assist first responders by providing additional support and assets in case of a large-scale emergency of a CBRN nature.
These Soldiers and Airmen together are required to respond to a large-scale mock nuclear disaster. To pass the evaluation they must successfully travel to the disaster site, set up their search and extraction team, decontamination team, then find, recover, transport, decontaminate, and medically treat patients who were involved.
Every three years the teams must complete an evaluation, however, this exercise not only certifies the CERFP teams but also allows them to work out any issues that might arise in a real disaster.
The Maine 521st Troop Command Battalion is responsible for command and control of the exercise. The team is responsible for overseeing the progress, communication, and operations of each subsidiary unit.
"They're testing us on our proficiency with the factor of time," Maj. Michael Gary, the administrative officer for the 521st Troop Command Battalion which is additionally tasked with the CERFP mission. "The most drastic purpose that we would be needed for would be a nuclear weapon," said Gary.
The mission of protecting U.S. soil has been a long tradition of the National Guard, rooting back to its first members.
"Our Minutemen were the founding of the armed forces in the United States," said Gary. "Like them, the National Guard is ready at a moment's notice to respond to manmade or natural disasters as well as federally into other countries to augment the active components."
Gary also expressed the importance of joint training with local first responders, Air National Guard, and Army National Guard units from other states.
"When you get together with Air, Army, and different units, you can unify to solve a problem," said Gary. "It also brings us closer to the first responder community, one thing we always hear from our evaluators is how quick we are to come together, unify, problem solve, and make connections."
Gary is confident in his team members and their preparedness for this event.
"I think we have really good people in position. We've been training and concentrating (on this mission) the last six months," said Gary. "We're going to knock it out of the park."
Role players from the public were also invited to participate in the event and act as casualties that the CERFP teams could then recover and treat.
"I'm really happy to see how they prepare for if something happened," said Claudia Beleli. "I feel safe."
Among the role-players, there was a sense of pride in helping out the National Guard.
"I'm proud to be part of this because they do a lot for us," said Beleli. "They're here to help us, this is a very emotional experience."