News: Guard leaders discuss balancing overseas, stateside missions
Story by Staff Sgt. Melissa Bright
SAN ANTONIO — Historically—and especially since 9/11—one of the things that Army and Air National Guard units have done best is figure out how to balance similar but different objectives: train to fight overseas, and prepare to assist local and state authorities during emergencies.
Being successful in achieving that balance requires ample communication and coordination from the top down, which can at times present it's own challenges.
This month, in San Antonio, an Air National Guard medical training conference provided an opportunity to tackle some of these communication challenges.
Members of the ANG Medical Service took part in the event to refresh current skills and learn new ones in order to better care for injured soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and fellow citizens during a disaster.
The training tracks available at the two-week event incorporated education at every level, from the most junior of lab technicians to the top medical professionals in each state's Air National Guard, the state air surgeons.
State air surgeons are fully qualified civilian doctors within the Guard system that have been tasked, among other duties, to give advice to the state’s adjutant general and Army surgeon on force protection medical issues and the medical aspects of homeland security.
These medical professionals are also charged with coordinating within their FEMA region to identify military medical capabilities available during emergency situations.
This allows appropriate use of medical assets when mobilized for state or national emergencies and provides for staff oversight of ANG medical activities.
During the conference, an Army National Guard Task Force commander, who has the responsibility of managing military response to certain stateside incidents, found the perfect opening to address a room full of these top advisors on how vital their Airmen are to the success of his mission.
Lt. Col. Daniel Quick commands the 6th Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Enhanced Response Force, or CERFP, headquartered in Austin, Texas, in support of both military groups and civil authorities.
The CERFP functions as a joint enterprise, drawing on personnel within the Army National Guard and the Air Guard to respond to these incidents. While the Army provides decontamination personnel and a search and extraction team, the Air National Guard fulfills the medical support obligation.
When ANG service members are requested to assist a CERFP during an incident, they provide medical stability capabilities, conduct casualty collection operations, assist with patient movement, and provide medical logistics support.
The Texas Air National Guard provides the CERFP its medical support in the form of 45 individuals with diverse specialties pulled from three different Texas Air Wings, the 147th Reconnaissance Wing in Fort Worth, the 136th Air Wing in Ellington Field and the 149th Fighter Wing in San Antonio.
The individuals fleshing out the ranks of the ANG medical support staff perform the same duties when tasked by the CERFP that they would normally for the Air National Guard during regular stateside or war-time missions. However, the personnel roster for the CERFP medical team can and does change depending on who is available from the three wings.
Availability is determined by a number of factors. These include CERFP training requirements, individual unit needs and the availability of the individual.
Despite necessary personnel changes, the team will always include multiple physicians, nurses and technicians who can manage a wide range of issues from asthma to hypertension, as well as limited psychiatric, gynecologic, and pediatric care.
Some of the state air surgeons have expressed concern that their day-to-day mission is being effected due to the increased training necessary to support a CERFP medical element and the multiple directions in which their teams are being pulled.
To alleviate some of this concern, Quick focused on providing a broad understanding as to the importance of the CERFP mission and assuring the medical officers that initiatives have been put in effect to avoid placing unnecessary burdens on their “blue” partners.
“We are here today trying to explain the capabilities of the CERFP and ask what we can do to mitigate some of the impacts this has on Air Wing requirements,” he said.
Guidelines for fulfilling the minimum duty obligations are the same for both the Army and Air National Guard members. They are expected to complete two active duty days a month and attend training two weeks every summer, in addition to maintaining readiness at all times for possible deployment for stateside or overseas missions.
Some Air Guard service members fulfill their obligation in a permanent capacity, where training and deploying for missions is just one component of their full-time job.
However, for non-full time Air Guard members performing a role as medical support for the CERFP, this means that in addition to their normal annual Air Force training, they are taking on the additional challenge of keeping up with the CERFP training requirements.
“We are extremely sensitive to the dual nature of the Air National Guard training requirement,” said Quick. “We take pride in using this valuable resource as efficiently as possible to ensure that both our training objectives can be met.”
For any given mission that requires Air Guard participation, JTF-71 and the CERFP strive to make that participation as concentrated and effective as possible. The goal is quality, effective training and operations, without losing sight of the fact that the Army Guard’s Air Guard partners have a full plate of non-JTF-71 missions throughout the year.
“The Guard is at its best when both Army Guard and Air Guard assets are teamed together for the benefit of the citizens of Texas,” said Quick. “And JTF-71 is proud to have the participation and support of both the Texas Army National Guard and Texas Air National Guard for ongoing operations.”