News: 44th Chemical Company trains with local Yakima community for CBRN defense
Story by Sgt. Jacqueline Fennell
YAKIMA, Wash. – Battling the heat, while suited in their chemical gear, some soldiers became heat casualties themselves after spending hours treating and decontaminating victims.
Soldiers assigned to the 44th Chemical Company, stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, trained alongside the local police department, emergency responders, community professionals and volunteers to respond to a simulated chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear incident in the state’s eighth largest city, a home to bountiful fruit and vegetation May 13.
The 44th Chemical Company and other units in the 2nd Chemical Battalion are a part of the Defense CBRN Response Force, a task force that is responsible for any catastrophic CBRN incident or attack that may occur in the continental U. S. and is overseen by the U.S. Army North Command.
Like the scene of a movie, this unique training mission was staged at the Selah High School in a populated area of the city.
Civilian casualties re-enacted the realistic conditions of what victims would suffer if two trains collided, causing an explosion that emitted chemical agents in the area like sodium chloride and hydrogen cyanide. Local authorities in the community role-played with the soldiers.
Supporting units like the 547th Area Support Medical Company, stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, provided medical treatment for casualties.
Training with local civilians was beneficial to their training and helped them be better prepared to respond.
“It adds a realistic aspect to the training so that civilians can see how we work and the unit running the decontamination line has the ability to see how civilians will react to a situation,” said Spc. Robert Henrikson, a CBRN specialist, who participated in the exercise and is assigned to the 31st Chemical Company.
Those who volunteered their time also felt it was a productive measure.
“It was interesting to see the units come together, be organized as a team and work together,” said Tisha Keeney a volunteer who played a casualty.
Re-enacting a real life catastrophe gave the community a chance to feel reassured.
“I’m pretty confident, everybody knows what they are doing and they all handled it well,” said Jessica Allen, a community volunteer who also played a victim in the exercise, about the confidence she had in the soldier’s abilities in responding to a CBRN incident.
The design of this training exercise is to test the capabilities of the unit’s response to conduct lifesaving missions in preparation for Department of Homeland Security readiness.
“We evaluate their ability to execute this mission in accordance with Army training doctrine that’s reported to the higher U.S. Army North commander for his review so that he can be sure we have a trained and ready force,” said Brent Mather, U.S. Army North Evaluation Analyst. “It doesn’t matter if it is a terrorist attack or a hurricane, but it’s to save and protect the citizens of the United States.”
Battalion commander Lt. Col. Christopher Cox, 2nd Chemical Battalion, said this type of training is scheduled to move to a brigade level of proficiency in August and added he has full confidence in his soldiers.
U.S. Army North Command Division Chief, James Barkley, who is in charge of evaluating the company said, this company will be trained and prepared to work with the local authorities and an incident commander.
“It will give the American people the comfort in knowing that there is a federal level response force that can respond anywhere in the United States if they are needed to save lives and mitigate pain and suffering,” added Barkley.
The cooperation between military and civilian role players set the stage for success.
“Americans helping Americans is the most important principle here,” said Cox. “The people we would help are our neighbors, our friends and our family.”
Now that training is almost complete, the 44th Chemical Company is more prepared to take on their role in an effort with local authorities and fellow members in the Defense CBRN Response Force mission.