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    California's Homeland Response Force test their decontamination capabilities during the 2011 Vigilant Guard Arizona Exercise

    California National Guard’s Homeland Response Force trains in the desert during the 2011 Arizona Statewide Vigilant Guard Exercise

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Edward Siguenza | Air Force Airmen 1st Class Edward Villanueva and Caprice Barnes, members of the 146th...... read more read more



    Story by Spc. Grant Larson 

    69th Public Affairs Detachment

    PHOENIX - In early November more than 8,000 participants from hundreds of state, local and federal agencies descended upon Phoenix, the sixth largest city in the U.S., for the 2011 Arizona Statewide Vigilant Guard Exercise, a training event designed to enhance the disaster preparedness of Arizona’s emergency management agencies, local authorities, military personnel, and U.S. Northern Command.

    The scenario, a flood followed by the detonation of a simulated 10-kiloton improvised nuclear device was given realism at special incident locations such as the Phoenix Fire Training Academy and hospitals throughout Phoenix’s Maricopa County.

    The California National Guard lent a hand, more than 600 to be exact, in the form of the 49th Military Police Brigade and its subordinate units. The 185th Military Police Battalion, made up of the 270th Military Police Company and the 40th Military Police Company, helped enforce the security element. The 579th Engineer Battalion brought subject-matter-experts from its Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package. Their 235th Engineer Company (Sapper) provided search and extraction teams and the 149th Chemical Company set up decontamination sites. Airmen from California’s 144th Fighter Wing and the 146th Airlift Wing joined in by sending medical personnel to care for the injured.

    These units gave the Fairfield, Calif.,-based 49th Military Police Brigade the special skill sets needed to create a unique Homeland Response Force. The intent of this collection of first responders is to answer the call if a state or U.S. territory is threatened by a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear disaster. There are 10 HRFs in the nation. Vigilant Guard Arizona provided the chance to help the police brigade prepare and train for its impending role as the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region IX military disaster coordinator, or HRF. If something happened in California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, Guam and other U.S. controlled islands in the Pacific, the 49th Military Police Brigade-lead HRF would be there to support civil authorities with response efforts.

    “It’s nice to exercise training with our Emergency Management Assistance Compact partners, and working with people from Arizona who we’d be supporting in a real-life disaster response as they’re our brothers,” said Capt. Shannon Terry, company commander of the 149th Chemical Company, based in Santa Rosa.

    National Guard units across the nation train for state emergencies all the time. The seasonal floods, fires, hurricanes, ice storms and in some cases earthquakes dominate the scenarios. This exercise is the largest emergency response exercise to simulated catastrophic events in Arizona’s history, and the planners mainly steered away from Mother Nature and went with something we hope never happens: an uncontrolled detonation of a nuclear device on U.S. soil.

    “The consequences of an improvised nuclear device [detonation] would be extensive. The impact on local, state and tribal governments and critical infrastructure would be considerable. The simulated evacuation of citizens of impacted areas along with medical triage will be a component of the overall response plan,” read Arizona’s Department of Emergency and Military Affairs news release.

    In March 2011 there was a slight chance the coastal area of Northern California would be affected by the nuclear meltdown following the tsunami in Japan, but nothing came of it. Not since the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania has the U.S. dealt with any type of nuclear or radiation incident. This exercise provided a rare training opportunity on a large scale.

    “We are chemical,” said Staff Sgt. Henry Meza, a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear non-commissioned officer in the 149th, and for the exercise, the decontamination NCO in charge. “This training is what we would be doing down range.”

    The 149th is out of Turlock, Calif., and its detachment from Gilroy, Calif. The 149th responds to CBRN incidences and support local, state, and federal agencies in managing the consequences by providing mass casualty decontamination for up to 300 casualties per hour. It is critical for the 149th to be a mobile asset because in the scenario of a nuclear explosion they must take the people found alive by the search and extraction teams or simply wandering around dazed from the impact, scrub them down making them safe to touch, and pass them off to be treated by the medics.

    “Seeing the different teams come together, that makes it interesting because it takes everybody to complete the mission,” said Pfc. January Bottoms, a 149th CBRN specialist.

    The scenario injects situations that make it difficult for the teams to do their job. Volunteers who acted as contaminated citizens saw their chance to be free of the radiation and rushed chemical cleaning sites, screaming and yelling to attempt to disrupt the operation.

    Someone had to maintain order.

    “This is the first time we’ve had the military police with us,” said Terry. “Primarily at the top of the line is crowd control issues and the military police have been very effective.”

    Task Force CBRN falls under the HRF and is a collection of units that specialize in CBRN response operations, including the 149th as the decontamination element. It is the former CERFP.

    “We’re one of the specialty military functional areas that actually have a very relevant civilian mission as well,” said Terry. “Decontamination is integral in the missions of the Incident Command System and FEMA. The state response aspect is very unique and it has a lot of applications in the civilian world.”

    The chemical specialists of the 149th and other units at Vigilant Guard provided a distinctive skill set much needed within a unique response force that will hopefully never be used but will always be ready to respond.



    Date Taken: 11.04.2011
    Date Posted: 11.08.2011 19:49
    Story ID: 79744
    Location: PHOENIX, ARIZONA, US

    Web Views: 426
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