YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. – The call came in early morning on May 8. Soldiers of the 181st Chemical Company responded with haste to a possible chemical or radiological threat at the Yakima Fairgrounds in Yakima, Wash.
Although there was no real threat for the public, these soldiers responded as if there had been. The team of responders set up a safe working perimeter, downloaded critical equipment and prepared NBC detection devices just like they would in a real-life situation.
Donning protective suits, masks and air tanks, they then moved methodically around the objective building on the sprawling fairgrounds.
“Our goals were to establish a safe working environment, clear the perimeter of the building and then the interior,” said 1st Lt. Jaciel Guerrero, the hazmat response platoon leader, 181st Chemical Company, 2nd Chemical Battalion.
As the perimeter monitoring team patrolled the outside, Spc. Michael Throm called to the tactical operations center reporting every window, door, nook and cranny. With sensors in hand, they tested every drain spout and hole they could find.
“This training here helps us to focus on the overall picture of what our job is,” said Throm, a chemical operations specialist and perimeter monitoring team member, 181st Chemical Company, 2nd Chemical Battalion. “Hopefully we’ll show we are the best.”
This exercise was an opportunity to test their skills, but also a lesson in how to work with civilian agencies stateside during emergencies like chemical spills, natural disasters or terrorist attacks.
“We work with local authorities like the fire department, Homeland Security or Federal Emergency Management Agency,” said Guerrero, a native of Plaqumines Parish, La. “We’ll go in and confirm any type of hazard in that building.”
Echoing his platoon leader’s sentiment, Throm, a native of Big Elk Meadows, Colo., said, “Right now we’re trying to integrate what we’ve trained on and done overseas to be able work with civilians here in the states.”
With the skies darkening and the threat of rain, the soldiers moved with a quickened pace outside and inside the building searching for the source of the threat.
Flashlights in hand, the team inside the building scanned every square-foot to find the source of the contamination, constantly reporting their findings. In the far corner of the second story, the soldiers discovered a chemical laboratory and the “body” of a male training dummy.
Once the building and surrounding area had been cleared, the soldiers returned to Yakima Training Center for more training and to await another call to action.
“We’re eager and excited to have the opportunity to help the citizens of our country,” Guerrero said.
According to Guerrero, getting to this point wasn’t easy.
“They’ve worked like crazy to study and become certified,” Guerrero said. “Their eagerness to learn and adapt to new things is the main reason we were as successful as we were today.”