Va. CERFP Soldiers, Airmen participate in Vigilant Guard exercise

An Airman from the Virgina National Guard Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear High Yield Explosive Response Force Package navigates through a simulated collapsed building to search for citizens in need of assistance May 13, 2014, during the Vigilant Guard exercise at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

An Airman from the Virgina National Guard Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear High Yield Explosive Response Force Package navigates through a simulated collapsed building to search for citizens in need of assistance May 13, 2014, during the Vigilant Guard exercise at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. — More than 130 Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen joined approximately 2,500 military and civilian emergency responders in Vigilant Guard, a multi-agency emergency preparedness exercise hosted May 13-15, 2014, by the Pennsylvania National Guard at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. The exercise allowed the Virginia personnel to focus on their core skill training but also provided them with valuable experience on working with other similar organizations within a large-scale incident framework.

The exercise, the largest of its kind ever held in Pennsylvania, included participants from eight state National Guards, National Guard Bureau, U.S. Northern Command, more than 20 Pennsylvania state agencies, five federal agencies and others who reacted to simulated emergencies, such as terrorist activity, severe weather and infectious diseases, in an effort to protect and aid citizens of Pennsylvania and FEMA Region III. Vigilant Guard is sponsored quarterly by U. S. Northern Command at different locations across the country. It is designed to evaluate and enhance the integration of local, state and federal responders under one command structure. The three-day exercise also tested the ability of different agencies to provide continuity of services for an extended period of time.

The Virginia Soldiers and Airmen who took part in the exercise are assigned to the Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear High Yield Explosive Response Force Package. The CERFP can conduct tasks associated with incident management, urban search and extraction, mass causality decontamination, technical decontamination, medical triage and treatment and Airmen from the Washington, D. C. National Guard provide fatality search and recovery capabilities. Personnel for the Sandston-based 200th Weather Flight also took part in the exercise to provide meteorological support to the CERFP.

“Getting all these players together in one location and operating simultaneously has been a challenge, but we learned a great deal from this opportunity,” said Lt. Col. Garland Goodrich, commander of the Virginia CERFP.

The CERFP mission is assigned to several different units rather than one specific unit in addition to their primary state and federal missions. Command and control and incident management functions are handled by a team of Soldiers from the Petersburg-based 276th Engineer Battalion. The West Point-based 237th Engineer Company contributes Soldiers for the search and extraction element, and Soldiers from the Rocky Mount-based 229th Chemical Company serve as a mass casualty decontamination element. Personnel from the from the Virginia Air National Guard’s 192nd Medical Group stationed at Langley Air Force Base form the mass casualty medical triage and treatment element. In addition, a Fatality Search and Rescue Team from the 113th Service Squadron from the D.C. National Guard is part of the Virginia CERFP.

The Virginia CERFP was evaluated as fully mission capable in April 2013, and many of the core skills needed for that evaluation were used for Vigilant Guard. Goodrich explained that the big difference was the number of other CERFPs and command and control elements for this exercise.

“There are four CERFPs involved with a higher headquarters, so we are looking at how we integrate with them,” Goodrich explained. “We are operating side by side, so we have to see where there are gaps between units that have never worked together before. We are working out how we share boundaries, interact and communicate better.”

Part of the scenario involved a battle handover of operations from one CERFP to another. Goodrich explained that a CERFP can operate for about 12 to 18 hours before needing to be replaced to allow for personnel rest. On the second day of the exercise, the Pennsylvania CERFP took over the mission command of the area where the Virginia CERFP was operating to maintain continuous operations.

“The handover went well,” Goodrich said. “We came in, set up, got operational and then Pennsylvannia came in and took over for us to run things.”

The exercise was also a great training opportunity for younger personnel in the unit.

“There has been a lot of changeover since the external evaluation, so our more experienced noncommissioned officers have been sharing their skills and experience with less experienced NCOs and Soldiers,” Goodrich said. “They learned why we do things a certain way, and that has been a good training opportunity for everyone.”

While they took things slow on the first day of set up, Goodrich said on the second day all the equipment was set up and running in the time frame they would have to meet for the external evaluation.

“I am pretty pleased with that,” he said.

Virginia’s CERFP was authorized in June 2006. There are currently 27 CERFP teams available nationwide with three in FEMA Region 3 in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.

If an incident requiring CERFP support occurs, Soldiers and Airmen are alerted through the Virginia Guard Joint Operations Center and mobilized on state active duty. If the incident is located within Virginia they would proceed to the incident site and fall under the control of the incident commander. 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.

Photos on Flickr:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/vaguardpao/sets/72157644250285730/

Va. Guard CERFP validated for duty following external evaluation in Virginia Beach – MAY 5, 2013
http://vaguard.dodlive.mil/2013/05/05/3588/