Va. Guard CERFP validated for duty following external evaluation in Virginia Beach

Virginia National Guard Soldiers from the West Point-based 237th Engineer Company prepare to conduct a mock search and extraction mission during an external evaluation for the Virginia Guard CERFP April 27, 2013 at the Virginia Beach Fire & EMS Training Center. The CERFP, which stands for Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear High Yield Explosive Response Force Package, was rated as “fully trained” on 15 of the 16 major tasks they had to accomplish. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Virginia National Guard Soldiers from the West Point-based 237th Engineer Company prepare to conduct a mock search and extraction mission during an external evaluation for the Virginia Guard CERFP April 27, 2013 at the Virginia Beach Fire & EMS Training Center. The CERFP, which stands for Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear High Yield Explosive Response Force Package, was rated as “fully trained” on 15 of the 16 major tasks they had to accomplish. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — A Virginia National Guard special response force capable of providing support to first responders and civil authorities was recommended for validation following an external evaluation April 27 at the Virginia Beach Fire & EMS Training Center.

The Virginia National Guard’s Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear High Yield Explosive Response Force Package, known as the CERFP (pronounced “surf-p”), was rated as “fully trained” on 15 of the 16 major tasks they had to accomplish.

The CERFP can conduct tasks associated with incident management, urban search and rescue, mass causality decontamination, technical decontamination, medical triage and treatment and fatality search and recovery. The force is made up of Soldiers and Airmen from units based in Petersburg, West Point, Rocky Mount, Danville, Virginia Beach and Langley Air Force Base, as well as personnel from the Washington D. C. Air National Guard.

“The coordination between elements has been amazing,” said Lt. Col. Garland Goodrich, the CERFP commander, as well as commander of the 276th Engineer Battalion. “They help each other out, work the kinks out and things are running really smooth today.

A Virginia Army Guard Soldier from the Rocky Mount-based 229th Chemical Company transports an “injured” role player through the decontamination line during the Virginia Guard CERFP external evaluation April 27, 2013. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

A Virginia Army Guard Soldier from the Rocky Mount-based 229th Chemical Company transports an “injured” role player through the decontamination line during the Virginia Guard CERFP external evaluation April 27, 2013. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The CERFP is unique in that it is a task force that includes elements from several different units rather than one specific unit. Command and control and incident management is handled by a team of approximately 16 Soldiers from the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion. Approximately 75 Soldiers from the Rocky Mount-based 229th Chemical Company serve as a mass casualty decontamination element. The West Point-based 237th Engineer Company contributes 50 Soldiers for the search and extraction element. Approximately 45 personnel from the from the Virginia Air National Guard’s 192nd Medical Group stationed at Langley Air Force Base form the mass casualty medical triage and treatment element.

In addition, a Fatality Search and Rescue Team from the 113th Service Squadron from the D.C. National Guard is part of the Virginia CERFP.

The West Virginia-based Joint Interagency Training and Education Center conducted the evaluation of the CERFP and oversaw the exercise, along with personnel from National Guard Bureau. The unit was evaluated on 16 different major tasks including conducting search and extraction operations, conducting rope extraction operations, establishing a response decontamination site, conducting ambulatory and non-ambulatory decontamination, conducting military personnel and equipment decontamination, conducting casualty collection and medical triage and providing treatment and emergency care for causalities.

“The evaluators categorized the Virginia CERFP as a focused group of military professionals who are eager to perform their assigned mission if called,” said Col. James W. Ring, Virginia National Guard director of joint operations. “The external evaluation validated that the Virginia CERFP is staffed, equipped and trained to perform their response mission in support of CBRNE events in the commonwealth as well as in the region, and it demonstrates the Virginia Guard’s commitment to meeting the Adjutant General’s vision of providing premiere, ready and relevant forces capable of rapidly responding when called to duty.”

Goodrich explained that the only time the units which make up the CERFP work together is when they are actually conducting CERFP training. But individual and unit training throughout the year and support from various commands has been vital to the CERFP’s success.

“For instance, I’ve gotten great support from the Air Guard,” Goodrich said. “They’ve been very supportive. Anything I’ve needed, they gave us the time, training and support to get the Air side up to speed.”

Each unit has its own tasks and responsibilities, which requires not only a lot of coordination but dedication and hard work throughout the year. For example, the 192nd Medical Group has six trailers worth of medical supplies and equipment just for its CERFP mission. Those materials need to be not only accounted for but ready to be used at all times in case of a real-world event.

“We had 331 individual training tasks we had to accomplish,” explained Lt. Col. Michael Renforth, commander of the 192nd Medical Group element, of his Airmen’s preparation for their CERFP duties. “They’ve done everything any commander could ask them to do. They’ve done it willingly and done it with grace. I can’t say enough about them. They’ve been outstanding and I’ve never been prouder of a group of individuals.”

Airmen from the Virginia Air National Guard’s 192nd Medical Group from Langley Air Force Base evaluate an “injured” role player during the external evaluation for the Virginia Guard CERFP April 27, 2013 in Virginia Beach. Approximately 45 personnel from 192nd Medical Group form the mass casualty medical triage and treatment element of the CERFP. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Airmen from the Virginia Air National Guard’s 192nd Medical Group from Langley Air Force Base evaluate an “injured” role player during the external evaluation for the Virginia Guard CERFP April 27, 2013 in Virginia Beach. Approximately 45 personnel from 192nd Medical Group form the mass casualty medical triage and treatment element of the CERFP. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Although the 229th Chemical Company is organized as an area support chemical company, tasked with decontaminating vehicles and equipment as well biological surveillance, as part of the CERFP element it is responsible for providing mass casualty decontamination, according to Capt. Andrew Czaplicki, the 229th Chemical Company commander.

“On the surface, there is very little that is transferrable between our federal and state missions,” he said. “However, the CERFP is able to capitalize on commercial ‘off the shelf,’ equipment so they have the latest and greatest equipment for us to use. As the technology improves, the CERFP is able to field newer types of detection and monitoring equipment faster than the rest of the Army.”

One challenge the Soldiers of the 229th face during their CERFP mission is fitness.

“Soldiers that man the decontamination lines don a full body, plastic suit, rubber gloves, rubber boots, and a protective mask,” Czaplicki explained. “By the time you’re suited up, the temperature in the suit rises about 10 degrees – before you start working.”

Although most rotations last from 45-60 minutes, some can be as long as three-four hours.

“Soldiers have to be in excellent cardiovascular shape to sustain this type of activity,” Czaplicki said. “The first two or three days we lost several Soldiers in our rotations due to our medical recovery team not allowing them back into the suit because their heart rates were too high.”

Meanwhile the Soldiers of the 237th Engineer Company find themselves in a very different mindset from their federal mission when performing their CERFP mission.“As combat engineers we deal more with breaking things more than saving things,” said Capt. Chris Grant, commander of the 237th Engineer Company. “We are able to go in and break some walls down to get to casualties but it’s a different mission set. However the Soldiers do everything they’re asked. I couldn’t ask for a greater bunch of guys.”

Several days of training and dress rehearsals preceded the external evaluation. However, now that the exercise is over and the CERFP is validated, it doesn’t mean the personnel can lose their edge, Goodrich explained.

“It’s not about training for the EXEVAL, it’s about training for the real world,” he said. ““This is train up for something that can really happen. This is just to validate that we can operate in the real world when we’re needed.”

Virginia’s CERFP was authorized in June 2006. The unit’s mission is to provide immediate response capability to the governor for searching an incident site that might include damaged and collapsed buildings, rescuing any casualties, decontaminating them and performing medical triage and initial treatment to stabilize them for transport to a medical facility.

If an incident requiring CERFP support occurs, Soldiers and Airmen are alerted through the Virginia Guard Joint Operations Center and mobilized on state active duty. If the incident is located within Virginia they would proceed to the incident site and fall under the control of the incident commander. If the incident is located outside of Virginia, the Joint Force Headquarters – Virginia would coordinate with the receiving state under the terms agreed to in the Emergency Mutual Aid Compact.

There are currently 27 CERFP teams available nationwide with three in FEMA Region 3 in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.

Photos:

Va. Guard CERFP undergoes external evaluation

http://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao/sets/72157633365626109/

Special Va. Guard response force prepares for evaluation
http://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao/sets/72157633353903036/