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NEWS | Feb. 27, 2024

District Dustoff bolsters partnership with local Urban Search & Rescue

By Master Sgt. Arthur M. Wright D.C. National Guard

A Category 4 hurricane made landfall on the eastern shores of Maryland and Virginia. In addition to coastal flooding, embedded in rainbands are tornadoes which have made the storm more costly and deadly. Maryland Task Force 1 (MD-TF1) and Virginia Task Force 1 (VA-TF1) of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have been activated as an Urban Search and Rescue Task Force to support the citizens of the DMV.

“It’s important for us to be able to respond when people need our help,” said 1st Lt. Justice C. Bennett, commander and aeromedical evacuation officer, Det 2 G Co 2/104th GSAB. “This directly aligns with our mission-essential task list and our DOMOP’s mandate as a National Guard unit. We are ready to conduct medevac operations, ready to assist our first responders with humanitarian assistance—these are all at the core of medevac mission.”

1st Lt. Bennett is describing his unit’s role in a scenario and exercise Feb. 15, at Montgomery County Airpark and Public Safety Training Academy (PSTA). The training was designed to improve interoperability and familiarity between the various partners involved in disaster response in the DMV, including the District of Columbia Army National Guard.

“I’m excited to learn more about cross-agency communications and how it plays into one big arena,” said Pfc. Caleb Thompson, signal operations support specialist, Det 2 G Co 2/104th GSAB. “This is about how we can best serve the public.”

During the exercise Pfc. Thompson was responsible for ground communications and providing 9-line medevacs to UH-60 Black Hawk crewmembers, including pilots and paramedics.

“We’re on a time crunch—people need aid, and our crew members need to know where to go,” Pfc. Thomas said. “A lot depends on our training.”

FEMA contracts 28 Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces nationwide. In FY22, teams were responsible for saving 1,787 people and searching approximately 97,000 buildings. The recent training represents a new partnership for members of the D.C. National Guard’s Aviation Detachment, nicknamed District Dustoff.

“This drill gave MD-TF1 an opportunity to train with a familiar partner in VA-TF1, as well as form relationships with the D.C. National Guard,” said Josh Kurland, assistant task force leader, MD-TF1. “Putting names to faces and learning partner agency capabilities prior to a disaster, puts us in a better position to effect positive outcomes when disasters strike.”

It also allows District Dustoff to ensure Soldiers are ready and able to perform alongside their civilian counterparts.

“It’s a partnership we’re extremely excited about and the potential for domestic operations integration,” 1st Lt. Bennett said. “We want to be postured to respond to any emergency in the local area and across the country. In the future, we’ll be able to say we’ve worked together before, we know how they work, and can partner successfully anywhere we’re called on to serve together.”

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