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Story by: Col. Richard Goldenberg - Joint Force Headquarters PAO
Dated: Tue, Apr 21, 2015
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. �ldquo; More than 800 Soldiers and Airmen from the New York and New Jersey National Guard tested their ability to respond to terrorist attacks during a four day exercise here, April 15-19.
The troops, trained to respond to chemical, radiological, and biological incidents, are part of the federal Homeland Response Force, or HRF, for New York and New Jersey. This is one of ten teams established by the Department of Defense to support state and local governments.
The exercise scenario revolved around multiple terrorist attacks using chemical weapons.
Soldiers and Airmen practiced extracting victims from destroyed buildings, decontaminating them, providing immediate medical treatment, and securing the site. The HRF commander is also the commander of the New York Army National Guard’s 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, headquartered in Syracuse, N.Y. The brigade headquarters coordinated the HRF movement and on site missions.
“This (exercise) is really a blessing,” explained brigade commander Col. Joe Biehler. “This (the HRF mission) is about resources and opportunities to train as a team,” he said.
The brigade, scheduled for a combat training center rotation to Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center in 2016 and preparing for a warfighter combat simulation exercise this summer, established its tactical operations center, or TOC, at Fort Dix, about 20 miles away from the HRF exercise incident site.
Operating the HRF command post is one of the most vital functions of the team, Biehler explained, because it allows for the quick expansion of the response force by plugging in additional National Guard response forces to whatever size is needed by civilian authorities.
It also, Biehler noted, provides similar training needed of any combat unit headquarters.
“This gives us the ability to set up the TOC and better prepare ourselves for the brigade warfighter,” Biehler said. “We’ve done it now three times since last fall. “HRF forced us to do that,” Biehler said. “A brigade TOC is a brigade TOC, whether we are battle tracking tactical operations for combat or disaster response missions for the HRF. It really isn’t all that different for our headquarters Soldiers.”
What is very different for other members of the HRF are the demands of the exercise site, where Soldiers do their jobs while wearing hazardous material protective suits. The Lakehurst Naval Air Station training site includes passenger rail cars, partial buildings and massive concrete structures, with confined spaces built into them to train rescue personnel.
The site is used regularly by first responders from the New Jersey State Police Task Force One, the urban search and rescue team.
During the HRF exercise, members of Task Force One conducted their own training at the site, adding to the multiagency response of the scenario. Members of the state police task force also provided technical advice and training to Army Guard engineers from New York’s Company A, 27th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, based in Lockport, N.Y.
“Most of our NCOs here served on HRF the first time,” said engineer 1st Lt. Tucker Brown, referring to the prior rotation of the company for HRF duties. “So many of them have that prior experience with the team and the job. That really helps out with the training of our newer Soldiers,” Tucker said.
The engineers, part of the search and extraction element, deployed a day earlier for proficiency training using their heavy equipment, designed to breach reinforced concrete at an incident to help rescue casualties.
“The interoperability we’re training for here is fantastic,” said Bob McDermott, a breaching and breaking instructor from New Jersey Task Force One. “I’m glad to be part of it.”
Some 50 Soldiers from the search and extraction element donned protective gear, hard hats and knee pads to scour the training site rubble pile to help rescue casualties from the scenario CBRN event. A mix of mannequins and role-players with realistic moulage wounds added to the challenge of the extraction team working within the rubble.
“We’re the ones that go down to search and extract people trapped in buildings and under debris, said Staff Sgt. Ryan Edwards, who serves as a team leader for the S&E team leader and is a member of Alpha Company, 27th Brigade Special Troops Battalion.
“The pile is dangerous, but not deadly,” said New Jersey Task Force One leader Kevin Stewart, observing the training of both his team and the National Guardsmen. “You have to stay sharp or face the risk of real injury here. This training will bite you if you don’t take it seriously or let your guard down,” he said.
The engineers worked quickly to assess casualties and move them away from the contaminated site to the main elements of the 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry headquarter’s CBRN response task force, based in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and the primary function of the HRF.
Here, some 75 Soldiers from Company D, 427th Brigade Support Battalion, based in Buffalo, N.Y., established and operated the decontamination line, providing the life-saving decontamination of both ambulatory and litter casualties.
Once through the decon line, patients were assessed by another 50 medical personnel from across the New York Air National Guard’s air wings, including Niagara Falls’ 107th Airlift Wing and the Scotia-based 109th Airlift Wing, the 105th Airlift Wing in Newburgh and 106th Rescue Wing from Westhampton Beach on Long Island. These expert medical personnel provide triage and prepare casualties for transfer to civilian medical facilities.
Surrounding the decontamination site and providing the initial contact with potential casualties and other first responders were members of the New Jersey Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 113th Infantry from Riverdale, N.J. as the HRF CBRN Assistance and Support Element.
We’re the ones pulling security at the site,” said Pfc. Mileny Ruiz, who serves as a member of the New Jersey CASE team. “We’re the ones trying to keep accountability and we have people at the front line keeping the civilians at the perimeter.”
Great care is taken not to further frighten the victims of the hazardous materials incident. “We don’t carry weapons,” said Ruiz. “It’s so we don’t scare the civilians. We’re there to organize and make sure the civilians get the help they need.”
From the HRF command post, Col. Biehler and his staff led both real-time forces of the HRF and hundreds more of simulated CBRN response forces arriving from other states in support of the incident, tracking the arrival of units and employing them according to the needs of civilian authorities. The Soldiers are trained to work within the incident command framework and function as a supporting element to a civilian incident commander.
The HRF is designed to foster increased dialogue between regional first responders and other state and federal response agencies. The HRF plays an important role at the regional level in helping develop and build regional plans and in working with emergency managers to build a cohesive government response to CBRN incidents at the regional level.
“The HRF mission? It really has been fantastic for us,” Biehler said. “It gave us training opportunities to bring the team together and that gave us a running start for the warfighter preparations this summer,” Biehler said.
Biehler explained that when the brigade headquarters staff came together for the staff training seminar, the Soldiers were able to work through the military decision making process and prepare combat orders relatively quickly, since the group had worked together so closely for HRF missions throughout 2014.
“We had people used to working together, knowing what needed to be done. HRF gives us that training to make our staff and all the elements of the team better,” he said.
Specialist Alexander Rector contributed to this story.