Guardsmen from New England train in handling disasters

By Staff Sgt. Kayla White | 157th Air Refueling Wing | April 30, 2018

PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. - Vehicles laid overturned in the road, fires burned high, downed power lines draped low across the wreckage and people, trapped under debris, cried out for rescue.

In the aftermath of a notional nuclear detonation at the university in Burlington, Vermont, on April 11, a specialized team of Air and Army National Guard members from throughout New England responded.

Members of the New England Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and high-yield explosives (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package, or CERFP, participated in a week-long readiness exercise from April 9-13 at Joint Base Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The training exercise prepared the New England CERFP for its formal external evaluation in May.

"Failing an external evaluation would mean that we are not certified and cannot respond to incidents," said Capt. Lyndsey T. Fleming, assigned to the 157th Medical Group, here. "This exercise gave us the opportunity to crawl, walk, and run through things, to refresh everyone and kick the dust off."

Fleming is the medical plans and operations officer for the New England CERFP.

The joint-force unit consists of search and extraction, decontamination, medical, fatalities, search and rescue, as well as command and control elements.

"In an ideal response, first responders would arrive on scene and realize their resources are completely overwhelmed," she said. "Then we could be called in. We would support the incident commander and provide them with what they needed in order to preserve life and minimize property damage."

During one part of the exercise, Airmen and Soldiers collaborated to free a simulated crush victim from underneath a large collapsed concrete slab. Using wooden wedges, metal pry bars, as well as some ingenuity and teamwork, they freed the victim from under the wreckage and began life-saving medical care.

"Joint training is important because in the real world it will be all hands on," said Staff Sgt. Alexander J. Barnhart, a search and extraction medic assigned to the 157th MDG. "The fact that we're able to integrate with the Army and have such good communication is really fortunate."

Barnhart has been working as a member of the CERFP for more than six years and participated in exercise.

"It's humbling to know that if, God forbid, a real-world incident occurred, we would be able to help," said Barnhart, brow furrowed, seemingly in earnest, with hands clasped. "It would be an honor to give back to my country in its time of need."

From the extraction site, the medics moved the victim to the decontamination tents, where they were cleaned up and assessed for injuries. Then, the victim received medical attention to ensure they were stable enough to be moved to a higher-level care facility, away from the disaster site.

After the training exercise finished, the participants received feedback from their evaluator.

"Our evaluator spoke with us and said that, based on what she had seen, we would have no problem passing the evaluation in May," said Fleming, letting out a sigh and gesturing with her hands, fingers splayed out against her lap. "That was great to hear."

Fleming said she believes this type of feedback serves as a confidence booster, especially for the medics.

"They thrive on this kind of training," said Fleming, smiling. "To be told they're doing well and setting the standard for other teams is very validating for them."