CHESTERFIELD, Va. – Virginia Army National Guard aviation crews took to the skies over Chesterfield’s Pocahontas State Park March 24, 2015, to assist local first responders during a regional search and rescue training exercise.
“Our goal is to be able to develop a stronger partnership with the National Guard so that it becomes a deployable asset anywhere in the state of Virginia,” explained Edward L. Senter, Fire and EMS chief for Chesterfield County. “This will give us the capabilities to go out and do search and rescue and ultimately extract a victim and get them to the care that they need.”
The Virginia National Guard’s participation in the exercise is a continuation of the relationship already established in Chesterfield between the flight crews and first responders who have been training together for several years, learning the ins and outs of how both organizations do business.
This time around, Virginia aviators assisted first responders in a variety of ways, providing simulated victims for search and rescue crews to find, hoisting the victims to safety, providing a medical evacuation helicopter and a providing a command and control helicopter that provided oversight of the entire operation.
“No locality can handle it all by themselves if you have a major incident,” Senter said. “It’s very important to partner with the National Guard because you all certainly have more assets and more resources that you can put on the incident if necessary.”
The exercise kicked off with search and rescue teams heading out from the centrally located command post to find simulated disaster victims, played by Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard. Once located, first responders transported the victims to a central location where they were then hoisted to safety via UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, operated by crews from Detachment 2, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment, with assistance from Chesterfield Fire personnel.
Meanwhile, a UH-72 Lakota helicopter from Detachment 1, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment acted as a command and control asset. The aircraft is equipped with the mission equipment package, or MEP, which includes a forward centerline-mounted camera system with advanced optics and a cabin touch-screen display, a video management system, a digital video recorder and data downlink system. The MEP can provide real-time video to personnel off-site, streaming live to computers and devices via the internet, allowing commanders and senior leaders from both the Virginia National Guard and first responder agencies to monitor the situation on the ground as it develops.
Additionally, an HH-60 Black Hawk helicopter provided medical evacuation support, transporting one of the simulated victims back to the Chesterfield airport.
“This is a great partnership and we’re very proud to have the National Guard in Chesterfield and we certainly value our partnership with them and are proud to be able to host them at the Chesterfield County Airport,” Senter said. “We’ll continue to partner with them and continue to improve this capability.”
This exercise continued to build on the relationships between local first responders and Virginia Guard aviators who have been training together for several years, conducting hoist training in the area, from land and water.
“The best part is that we know how they operate and they know how we operate so that way there’s no surprises in the future should be need to operate together,” explained Capt. Ryan Strait, commander of the Lakota detachment. “This fosters our relationships for any of the real world scenarios that we might encounter.”