KINGSVILLE, Texas - "We're here to help and support the citizens of Texas," said Lt. Col. Les Edwards, commander of the 6th CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package. "We're trying to save lives here."
Throughout the weekend of Jan. 10-12, the members of this battalion-level National Guard outfit trained on a full-scale simulated incident at the Naval Air Base in Kingsville, Texas. The scenario, which included a notional attack against the Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, tested the response times and the life-saving skills of these specialized guardsmen.
The 6th CERFP, which focuses on incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive contaminants, is a consequence management organization within Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade). This training served as the final exercise before engaging the JTF-136 (MEB) Homeland Response Force external evaluation in March, which will allow the unit to continue its mission for FEMA Region VI for another three years.
"Each of the 10 different FEMA Regions have a homeland response force in that region," said Lt. Col. Scott Nelson of the Joint Interagency Training and Education Center, the certifying asset for the National Guard Bureau external evaluations. "There are a total of 10 HRFs and a total of 27 CERFPs that are in the country."
As the host state for both a CERFP and the region's HRF mission, Texas has a lot to be proud of, and its National Guard takes nothing for granted when it comes to this responsibility.
"We're here preparing for a homeland security emergency," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Seth Stucker, a medical guardsman with the 6th CERFP. "We're a CBRNE defense team that comes out and prepares and supports the local emergency response system."
It's within this emergency response framework that the 6th CERFP supports the citizens of Texas and all of FEMA Region VI. They are activated by the governor as a force multiplier to assist with the local first responders in the event of an emergency.
"We're a National Guard Unit, we're here to support the governor of Texas," said Edwards. "In a real-life crisis, once we get the call and I get my information, for my guys to set up, it'll take about two to two and a half hours to set up."
This exercise is only the most recent demonstration of their capabilities, with more than a year's worth of scenarios feeding into March's final evaluation that have included Operation Joint Eagle, Vigilant Guard, and several individual training activities throughout Texas.
"We try to go out to multiple sites," said Edwards, "because you never know where you're going to be called out to. We train anywhere and everywhere."
This weekend was no exception, as approximately 400 Texas Guardsmen from Kingsville, San Antonio, Laredo, Austin and Round Rock converged on the Naval Air Station to simulate a mass-casualty incident.
"What they do is extremely difficult physically, said Nelson. "What they do here is a capability that a lot of the civilian agencies have, except that we can do it in a contaminated environment, whereas in a lot of cases, they can't."
"We want to make sure that we can be in any environment," said Stucker. "We want to be prepared for any type of patient."
Their training reinforces this goal, as the guardsmen conduct countless rescue missions and patient treatments while in full protective suits, ensuring accuracy of the scenario and familiarity with the equipment.
"I've been in two years," said Pfc. Keila Escobar, of the 436th Chemical Company, a subordinate organization within the 6th CERFP, "and it's been a pleasure to be in the 436th Chemical Company because I get to learn how to help people, how not to panic, and help them as well not to panic."
These skills will prove instrumental to the brigade’s success in March, and help them to save lives should disaster strike. With training like this, the citizens of FEMA Region VI can rest assured that these Guardsmen will be prepared to act if called upon.
"Any scenario, I think we're ready for this," said Escobar. "We're ready."