Virginia Guard Soldiers, Airmen train at CERFP University

Virginia Guard Soldiers and Airmen learn decontamination techniques and proper wear of their personal protective equipment as part of the capstone exercise of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package University, or CERFP-U, at Fort Pickett Sept. 14. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. – Members of the Virginia Guard’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, High Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package, or CERFP, spent the week of Sept. 9-15 at Fort Pickett teaching their newest Soldiers and Airmen the basics of incident response as part of CERFP University.

CERFP University aims to educate new members of the response force on the operating procedures of hazardous material detection equipment and the correct wear of personal protective equipment, as well as to ensure all new members obtain the required certifications from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

“It’s an opportunity to bring students into a training environment and to teach them what we do for the state mission as a CERF unit,” said Tech. Sgt. Juan Ortiz, CERFP University instructor. “It’s about being able to respond to an incident at rapid notice and be able to suit up properly with the proper equipment and proper training and perform what we need to do to take care of patients and victims.”

During the first few days of the course, the approximately 40 Soldiers and Airmen enrolled in the class spent time in the classroom going through the hazmat operations course. Here, the students learned the basics of hazmat response and gained various certifications from state agencies, including VDEM.

“Then we do a round robin event with all of the monitoring equipment we use,” explained Staff Sgt. Michael Bonnett, CERFP technician. “The students go around and train on every piece of equipment we have and then we test them – go or no go – at each station.”

The course culminated in a collective training event on the sixth day of training during which the students donned personal protective equipment, including a powered air purifying respirator, and conducted various roles along a decontamination lane set up outside their classroom.

“It’s pretty sweaty in the suit,” Sgt. Joseph Buckner, a student in the class, said. “You don’t really feel it because you’re in the water then once you come out of the suits you’re just drenched in sweat, but other than that it’s good stuff. It’s good training.”

CBRNE Marines from the Camp Lejune-based 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit conducting pre-deployment training at Fort Pickett also participated in the culminating exercise.

“We were getting ready to go out to the rifle range the other day and we happened to see their truck and the symbol on it, so we came to a screeching halt,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Manion, of the 26th MEU. “I ran in and asked if we could meet up with them in the next couple of days and they were all about it.”

Four young Marines suited up to join the Soldiers and Airmen in the decontamination tent.

“We’re gonna send them through because they’re also CBRNE guys and like I said, we’re all school trained on the way we do it, but the best way to learn is to see how other people do it,” said Manion.
“It’s always good to think outside the box and see how you guys are doing your mission.”

“It’s very important because sometimes we miss what the benefits are of what other branches can do together and this is a joint thing,”
Ortiz said of the Marine’s visit and participation in the exercise.
“It’s good for them to see what we do here, what the Air Force side does, what the Army side does and so forth, and to see that we’re all in this together. “

The students graduated from the course on Sept. 15 after one final test.

“Hopefully nothing ever happens, but if something does ever happen, I’d like to just get out there and do the job we’re being trained to do and know that I saved someone’s life,” Buckner said.

The CERFP can conduct tasks associated with incident management, search and rescue, mass 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 and Langley Air Force Base as well as the D.C. National Guard.

Virginia’s CERFP was authorized in June 2006 and is made up of approximately 250 Virginia Guard Soldiers and Airmen. The units making up Virginia’s CERFP include:

  • The command and control and incident management team from the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion.
  • The mass casualty decontamination element from the Rocky Mount-based 229th Chemical Company.
  • The search and extraction element from West Point-based 237th Engineer Company.
  • The mass casualty medical triage and treatment element from the 192nd Medical Group, Virginia Air National Guard stationed at Langley Air Force Base.
  • The fatality search and remains recovery element from the 113th Service Squadron from the D.C. National Guard.

The concept is that when an incident occurs, Guard personnel of the CERFP are alerted through the Joint Force Headquarters – Virginia and mobilized on state active duty. If the incident is located within Virginia they would proceed to the incident when directed by the Joint Force Headquarters. 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. After arriving at the incident site, the incident management team and element commanders coordinate with and support the local incident commander.

To view more photos from the event, visit: