CERFP Soldiers train on search & extraction in West Virginia

More than 50 Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group, participate in the Search and Extraction Basic Course, taught by West Virginia National Guard Soldiers, Aug. 1, 2017, at Camp Dawson, West Virginia. The seven-day course, designed for search and extraction elements of the specialized Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package, or CERFP, covers breaching and breaking, lifting and hauling, ropes, confined space entry and shoring. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

CAMP DAWSON, W.Va. – More than 50 Soldiers assigned to the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group, traveled to Camp Dawson, near Kingwood, West Virginia, for the Search and Extraction Basic Course, held July 28 – Aug. 4, 2017. During the seven-day course, Soldiers trained on breaching and breaking, lifting and hauling, ropes, confined space entry and shoring.

Soldiers of the 180th are a new addition to the Virginia National Guard’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package, or CERFP.

“Our guys are getting trained up and getting qualified to perform the mission,” explained Capt. Ryan Pawlick, commander for the 180th Engineer Company.

The CERFP is a specialized unit comprised of six elements that together form a response force capable of providing support to first responders and civil authorities in the event of a disaster. The 180th Soldiers form the search and extraction element of the CERFP.

“We’ve got a pretty important mission within the state of Virginia as one of the CERFP elements,” Pawlick said. “Our goal is that everyone leaves here knowing what is expected and how to perform their duties in the event something ever happens and we’re called into action.”

The Camp Dawson course, taught by West Virginia National Guard Soldiers and run by the Joint Interagency Training and Education Center, teaches the basics of search and extraction to CERFPs from across the country.

“We push the hands-on,” explained 1st Lt. Dwight Siemiaczko, the officer-in-charge of the course. “Most Soldiers learn better with hands-on [training], so they go through a small PowerPoint presentation, and then straight to the hands-on portion.”

The course is broken into stations, and the Soldiers spend one to three days on each station. Ropes is the longest part of the course, totaling three days, and is often named as a favorite for the Soldiers attending the course.

“You get people who don’t know anything about knots,” explained Siemiaczko. “It’s the first time they’ve seen a rope in their lives, and by the end of the course, they’re going to ascend and descend a rope, do haul systems, patient packaging, all of that by the time they leave here.”

Soldiers also spent one day each on breaking and breaching, lifting and hauling, and shoring. On the final day of the course, Soldiers came together to wind their way through the confined space entry trainer.

“We’ve been learning how to do breaking through immovable objects, like giant pieces of concerete, how to move those pieces of concrete, how to cut through things like steel, how to breach gaps and get to victims who may be trapped under buildings or pieces of rubble,” Pawlik explained. He said his favorite part of the course was the shoring lesson. “Figuring out what the weight of a wall is and trying to prevent it from collapsing and putting wood together and bracing it, it was really great.”

Spc. Kennth Wilson, a CERFP team member, said it was one of the best training experiences he’d ever had in with the National Guard.

“All it all, it’s been a wonderful experience,” Wilson said. “The instructors here have been amazing.”