FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – Six hundred New York and New Jersey National Guard Soldiers and Airmen honed their skills to respond to a terror attack or weapon of mass destruction incident Sept. 8-14 at Fort Indiantown Gap and Fort Drum in New York.
The Guard members are part of the Homeland Response Force, which supports Region II of the Federal Emergency Management Agency covering New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The HRF responds to incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear contaminants. CBRN incidents can be industrial, terror-related, or from other causes. The force employs a CBRN response task force, with 27 such teams across the country.
The New York and New Jersey Soldiers and Airmen performed a wide range of tasks during their six-day training event, which coincided with the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
“Overall, I think the team did very well,” said Army National Guard Lt. Col. Joshua Krug, an exercise director and lead for evaluating the CBRN response at Fort Indiantown Gap.
Krug said a highlight of the training was seeing the unit’s improvement as it responded to repeated missions.
“This is a great tool to test the team’s ability to conduct their mission with no notice,” Krug said. “It is good for commanders (and) leadership to see how their team would do with no train-up.”
The Homeland Response Force assists local emergency forces that would respond first to an attack.
The Soldiers and Airmen are trained to extract and decontaminate casualties and provide medical triage for civilian emergency responders.
The September exercise served as a certification for the HRF.
The leaders get valuable feedback from the evaluators, explained Command Sgt. Maj. Sean Goodridge, the senior enlisted advisor for the 152nd Brigade Engineer Battalion and CBRN response element headquarters.
“It is a chance for us to communicate and work together as a team, which you don’t want to be doing for the first time in a real-life situation where lives depend on you,” Goodridge said.
A parallel exercise took place at Fort Drum, New York, involving the command elements of the HRF, built around the headquarters of the 42nd Infantry Division. Those Soldiers performed staff and leadership actions to deploy and direct the force.
At Fort Indiantown Gap, elements of the CBRN response force donned protective suits, overboots, thick rubber gloves and masks and practiced extracting casualties in heat that sometimes exceeded 90 degrees.
Spc. William Richmond, with the New Jersey Army National Guard’s 328th Military Police Company, said the event was exciting.
“For me, I learned a lot about myself and managing my time, which can be hard to learn without being thrown into a situation like this,” Richmond said.
Leaders had to manage rotations of teams to ensure safety and effectiveness in the protective suits in such high temperatures and, at times, heavy rain.
Teams ran through their response again and again, increasing their speed and effectiveness with each repetition, said Senior Airman Casey Grayson, a member of the New York Air National Guard’s 105th Airlift Wing.
“This isn’t my first rodeo, but I still learn new things every time we do one of these events,” Grayson said. “For example, this is the first time I’ve taken part in one that had heavy rain, which greatly impacts how we need to move around and treat the patients. Instead of keeping them cool, we must keep them warm and dry.”
National Guard and U.S. Army North experts evaluated the participants.
“I think the team did very well and improved significantly from Day One to Day Four,” Krug said.