CERFP search & extraction team trains in West Virginia

Ten Virginia National Guard Soldiers join Soldiers and Airmen from Nebraska and Florida during the ropes phase of the Extractor 1 Course Aug. 18, 2018, at Camp Dawson, West Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

CAMP DAWSON, W.Va. — Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to a specialized response force traveled to Camp Dawson, West Virginia, for a 12-day, four-phase course on the basics of search and extraction during the latter half of August. The eleven Soldiers who attended the course are all assigned to the 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group.

“It’s been an awesome school,” said 1st Lt. Andrew Rotermund, executive officer for the 180th Engineer Company. “It’s been really hands on. We don’t learn anything in the classroom that we don’t actually do here, out in the real world.”

Eleven Virginia National Guard Soldiers test their knowledge during the core evaluation portion of the Extractor 1 Course Aug. 17, 2018, at Camp Dawson, West Virginia. The Virginia Soldiers are assigned to the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group and are part of the state’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package, or CERFP. (U.S. National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

The course, called Extractor 1, was taught by Soldiers assigned to the West Virginia National Guard’s Joint Interagency Training and Education Center. Soldiers spent the first several days learning the basics during the core phase of the course and focused on tasks including victim management, equipment maintenance, belaying operations, search operations and single point anchors before a one-day evaluation that included both a hands-on evaluation that required Soldiers to put their new skills to work and retrieve a “victim” from the bottom of a low slope, as well as a written examination.

“I’m a very visual person, so coming out and doing it out in the real world is the way that I learn best,” Rotermund said.

After the core portion of the course, the Soldiers moved on to the ropes phase. This phase focused on multi-point anchor systems, ascent and descent, compound and complex mechanical advantage and rappelling. During one packed day, Soldiers rappelled using a variety of different systems and then launched into their ropes evaluation on the following day.

Next, Soldiers learned how to work and rescue in confined spaces for a few days before continuing on to the final phase of the course, the structural collapse phase which taught the Soldiers how to lift and move, shore and breach and break.

“Before I came to the training, I was not excited at all,” said Sgt. Timothy Mahanes, a team leader in the 180th Engineer Company and a 12N horizontal construction engineer. “I would much rather have a bulldozer than a bunch of ropes; however, after going through the training, it’s been fun and I found some practical uses for some of the training that I can take home with me and that’s what makes it good.”

The 180th Engineer Company serves as the search and extraction element of the state’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package, or CERFP. The CERFP includes six elements, including search and extraction, that together can provide support to civil authorities during times of disaster, either at the state or federal level.

“The CERFP mission and general concept is kind of why I went into the National Guard,” Rotermund said. “The ability to help stateside and during a national disaster and helping the community around me was one of the main reasons for going Guard instead of active duty.”

In addition to the Virginia Soldiers, National Guard troops from Nebraska and Florida attended the training in West Virginia.

Eleven Virginia National Guard Soldiers test their knowledge during the core evaluation portion of the Extractor 1 Course Aug. 17, 2018, at Camp Dawson, West Virginia. The Virginia Soldiers are assigned to the Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group and are part of the state’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package, or CERFP. (U.S. National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)