COLUMBUS, Ga. -- Members of the Columbus, Georgia, city council unanimously recognized a firefighter at Fort Benning and others April 2 for an inter-community, international emergency exercise in 2018 that trained a class at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).
In August 2018, Fort Benning firefighter Elizabeth Gomez and others participated as actors and facilitators during a simulated flood to teach military and civilian officers from WHINSEC about emergency operations during a natural disaster.
Gomez, who received a plaque and a copy of the city council proclamation, did not expect to receive recognition publicly.
"I work in emergency services; I love helping people," she said. "When they asked me to help, I helped, because that's what I do."
The exercise took place on the Chattahoochee River. In the scenario, a flood swept people downriver, stranding them on the islands immediately below the rapids. The WHINSEC students, who included military and civilian personnel from Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama and Paraguay, coordinated with local emergency services to corral efforts and resources. They took boats to the islands, moved the role players to the shores, and triaged the injured role players. On one side of the river, the students tracked the injured role players and updated the notional mayor of the upriver city on the progress of rescue operations.
Gomez, who is originally from Medellín, Colombia, speaks Spanish and English and was able to act as an intermediary between the Spanish-speaking students and the English-speaking local emergency personnel.
"To give back to the community from where I was originally from was very nice," said Gomez.
"She didn't hesitate to stand up," said Charles Herlth, a training officer at Columbus Fire and EMS, who helped coordinate the event. "This was key to allow the students to focus on the tasks and not have to worry about trying to get information interpreted into Spanish so they could understand what they were receiving from their situational reports."
Herlth also expressed the importance of the ongoing relationship between Fort Benning and Columbus, especially as that relationship concerns real-world emergency operations.
"Our relations with Fort Benning fire is significant," said Herlth. "There are no boundaries when it comes to public safety. If they have a significant event on Fort Benning, Fort Benning knows we're coming. Also, if we have something significant in Columbus, to where our resources are being tasked, we know Fort Benning's coming."
To learn more about the original exercise, visit www.army.mil/article/210249.