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Search and rescue exercise Airman 1st Class Madeleine Richards

U.S. Air Force airmen with the 181st Intelligence Wing, Indiana Air Guard, participate in a search and rescue exercise in Terre Haute, Ind., Dec. 7, 2013. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Madeleine Richards)

HULMAN FIELD AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Ind. – It is a scene from a horror film. Moans echo in the early morning air. Misshapen bodies litter the ground as vaguely human shapes shamble through the smoke covered debris.

Screams, emergency sirens, and cries of pain resonate in the air. Moving towards the carnage from military style tents are people encased in plastic environmental suits.

Is it a video game or a scene from a zombie movie? Thankfully, no. Does it still seem horrifying? I hope so.

This is a typical exercise scenario conducted multiple times throughout the year for the 181st Intelligence Wing. Horrifying, staged exercises like this are how airmen in the Indiana Air National Guard train throughout the year to support their communities during times of natural and man-made disasters.

The stench of rotting flesh permeates the training areas to prepare airmen for the harsh realities they could encounter when responding to disasters. The 181st IW regularly participates in mass casualty exercises in the local community and throughout the country. The exercises simulate aircraft crashes with mangled casualties, devastating floods, and unsafe collapsed buildings…in a word, chaos.

“Our mission is to respond to disasters in the in the state of Indiana,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Gregory Russell, 181st Intelligence Wing Medical Group. “We are tasked to respond when local first responders can’t handle the situation.”

The 181st IW’s state mission involves disaster response to the Hoosiers of Indiana. Airmen routinely train and practice with state and federal first responders and incident commanders to patch up the most serious wounds. First line triage forces airmen to quickly care and stabilize victims with shattered bones, gushing wounds, mangled limbs and charred skin.

“As part of the search and extraction team we look for casualties,” said Russell. “We conduct triage, treat casualties as necessary, and save as many as we can in order to help them transition back to a normal environment.”

The demolished buildings shift and groan as rescuers search the debris. The dusty air smells of dirt and concrete.

“The exercises provide a realistic disaster environment for our members to train,” said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Jay McKee, 181st IW Fatalities Search and Recovery Team. “The FSRT assists in the extraction and proper care of fatalities. The collapsed buildings and rubble better prepare my team on what they can and cannot do, and forces integration with other units to accomplish the job.”

In addition to the traditional first responders, other wing organizations are leveraging combat skills learned over the last decade and applying them to disaster relief and domestic response.

In the distance, shadowy human shapes stalk though the hedgerows and fields surrounding the carnage.

Tactical Air Control Party airmen traditionally trek long distances in grueling conditions to establish communications with aircraft and conduct air strikes against enemy combatants.

Today, TACPs are shifting their focus towards domestic operations and responding to disasters. TACPs are elite forces trained to operate autonomously in austere environments. Rugged, physical men trained in satellite communications, aircraft control, and task management have easily transferable skills in the first critical hours and days during the confusion and chaos of any disaster situation.

“Except for actually assisting in dropping bombs, every other skill and mission we perform can easily be used when responding to a disaster,” said Air Force 1st Lt. Ed Shulman, 181st Intelligence Wing TACP. “While our equipment is not as good as a cellphone, if communications are down we have the ability to set-up a command post in any area and begin assisting in rescues, aircraft coordination, and command and control.”

Overhead, barely visible shapes, resembling the legendary thunderbird, circle the disaster and surrounding areas while shadowy figures from behind the “green door” shift their gaze.

Increasingly, the 181st IW will provide local first responders and incident commanders the benefit of their expertise in analysis and assessment. The Wing routinely trains with the Civil Air Patrol and other National Guard units conducting search and rescue training, as well as incident awareness and assessment.

“We have taken 12 years of combat operations and lessons learned and are applying those skills to assist the people of Indiana,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Greg Hrovat, 181st Intelligence Wing.

181st IW airmen fly with the CAP to provide video and images for continuation training. As a by-product, they image key infrastructure, roads, bridges and rivers to provide historical documentation. These documents can be used after a disaster to analyze damage, flooding or road access.

“During exercise United Front we provided the incident commander with a common operating picture and aerial assessments on road access into the exercise disaster area and information on damaged buildings,” said Air Force Maj. Craig Maschino, 181st Intelligence Wing. “We looked for debris, downed trees, flooding, or anything else that would prevent access by disaster response forces.”

Like the G.I. Joes, the training and skills found at the 181st provides the people and leadership of Indiana an increased capability to assist their neighbors when disaster strikes. The location and facilities at Hulman Field ANG Base make supplying that support easy.

“The Wing’s domestic operations training showcases the Racer’s continued readiness and reliability in providing disaster support to the state of Indiana during times of crisis,” said Col. Donald Bonte, 181st IW commander. “Our central location, infrastructure and runways provide a perfect staging area and rapidly deploying from Hulman Field demonstrates one of the many capabilities of the 181st IW.”

As day breaks, and the smoke clears, it is apparent the carnage isn’t from a movie, or real life. The shambling figures and reeking bodies are training aides only, the people in plastic suits are 181st IW airmen, and the circling thunderbirds are response aircraft providing vital information to the incident commander. Thankfully, it is merely a well-crafted exercise showcasing Indiana Air National Guard airmen responding quickly and effectively to a crisis or disaster. Like saviors in a zombie movie, the 181st IW stands ready to react to the worst situations imaginable to support the Hoosier community, the state of Indiana and the nation.


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Public Domain Mark
This work, Zombies walk the Earth?, by Lt. Col. Frank Howard, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.

Date Taken:12.12.2013

Date Posted:12.13.2013 10:11

Location:TERRE HAUTE, IN, USGlobe

Hometown:CINCINNATI, OH, US

Hometown:EVANSVILLE, IN, US

Hometown:FORT WAYNE, IN, US

Hometown:GARY, IN, US

Hometown:INDIANAPOLIS, IN, US

Hometown:LOUISVILLE, KY, US

Hometown:TERRE HAUTE, IN, US

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