FORT PICKETT, Va. — Soldiers and Airmen from the Virginia National Guard’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, High Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package, or CERFP, braved below-freezing temperatures Feb. 20-21, 2015, at Fort Pickett, Va., to conduct a collective training exercise designed to prepare the unit for an external evaluation to be held later this year. Approximately 230 Soldiers and Airmen participated in the exercise, working with evaluators to ensure their proficiency.
“The collective training exercise is an annual requirement for CERFP training,” explained Maj. Colin Noyes, commander of Virginia’s CERFP. “We bring all the elements of the CERFP together in order to train and practice our skills.”
The Virginia Guard’s CERFP includes six specialized elements, in addition to the command and control element, the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion, that creates a response force capable of providing support to first responders and civil authorities in the event of a disaster. The Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the unit can conduct incident management, urban search and rescue, mass casualty decontamination, technical decontamination, medical triage and treatment, fatality search and recovery and communications support. 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 Airmen from the Washington D.C. Air National Guard.
Each of those elements focused on their training in order to ensure readiness for the EXEVAL. Search and extraction teams worked at the urban operations training site and focused on ropes, tunnels and lifting heavy rocks and boulders. The decontamination teams practicing decontaminating both ambulatory and non-ambulatory simulated casualties, taking their patients – played dummies or other Soldiers and Airmen – through the multiple parts of the decontamination process before passing them on to the medical triage and treatment teams. The newly-added Joint Incident Site Communications Capability, or JISCC, an Air National Guard element, set up communications assets for the exercise.
The external evaluation, scheduled for May, is a big deal for the CERFP. Success at the EXEVAL means the force will be certified to conduct tasks in response to disasters both in the commonwealth and across the nation. The exercise worked not just to sharpen the skills of the individual Soldiers and Airmen, but also to build the teams that will work together during the EXEVAL.
“The big thing this weekend is building the teams that we’re going to use during the EXEVAL,” explained Capt. Brian Webb, commander of the 75-person decontamination element. “We have a lot of new people, but they’re excited to do this mission and as a result they’re learning really fast.”
Webb explained that while the location of the EXEVAL will be different than the site of the training exercise, much will remain the same, including the personnel, the equipment and the evaluators, who were on hand during the training exercise to guide the Soldiers and Airmen as they prepared for the EXEVAL.
The week of the exercise, Winter Storm Octavia brought temperatures into the single digits and dumped snow and ice across the commonwealth, forcing the CERFP to make some adjustments to their training scenario and plan. Instead of setting up on the Blackstone Army Airfield, the CERFP set up inside the hangar located there, packing in three decontamination lines and a medical triage tent.
“The big thing right now is doing it safety,” said Webb. “We’re going a little slow, but we haven’t had any injuries which is amazing since we picked maybe the worst weather weekend of the year to do this training, but we’re doing it and it’s going really well.”
Despite the added difficulties of the cold weather, the training was a success.
“We are prepared to pass the EXEVAL and more so prepared to support our communities within the Commonwealth or in other states when the time arises,” Noyes said.