Training to save lives in the face of disaster
PERRY, Ga. – Crushed rubble, destroyed building structures, demolished cars, hazardous material suits and medical tents littered the landscape.
To the unknowing public, an assumption that a disaster just took place, but for the U.S. Army Reserve Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear response task force, training has begun, and the Soldiers were training to help. More than 500 Army Reserve Soldiers and an active Army unit participated in Operation Guardian 15, here, June 26-29.
Operation Guardian tested the search and rescue, hazardous materials, decontamination, and medical triage capabilities of the Soldiers, over two phases. Phase one began near Ocala, Florida, with simulated natural and man-made disaster operations for seven days.
The units then prepared for convoy movement from Ocala to Perry, Georgia where they initiated phase two of their training, June 27.
“This exercise [Operation Guardian] has been more than four years in the making,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Snider, action operator, U.S. Army Reserve Command G-33.
“What Operation Guardian does is allow the Soldiers to come out and work together as one unit, building cohesion,” said Master Sgt. Jeremy Mann, operations noncommissioned officer.
A major factor of the training was the evaluation of the Army Reserve enabling Defense Support of Civil Authorities. Army Reserve Soldiers can rapidly respond to disasters in order to save lives, prevent human suffering and mitigate great property damage, Snider said.
“The forces that we have on the ground here are tied to CBRN Response Enterprise, so they would be expected to be moving toward the objective within 96 hours of notification,” Snider said. “It is fast, but our units have proven they can move faster.”
The participating units included the 92nd CBRN Battalion from Decatur Georgia, the 388th CBRN Company from Junction City, Wisconsin, Minnesota, the 392nd CBRN Company from Little Rock, Arkansas, the 704th CBRN Company from Arden Hills, the 493rd Engineer Detachment (Fire Fighter) from Pascagoula, Mississippi, the 659th Engineer Company from Spokane, Washington, the 331st Medical Detachment from Perrine, Florida, and the 546th Area Support Medical Company, an active duty unit from Fort Hood, Texas.
“It’s a multitude of different talent here, and we are trying to make sure we encapsulate the total integration of the military forces with this exercise,” Mann said.
“We work well together,” said 1st Sgt. Dedraf Blash, 546 ASMC. “We have to learn each others set-up because we only have a certain time frame that we have to get everything ready for patient care.”
“Slow is smooth, smooth is fast, so if we know what we are doing we can get set-up quickly and help more people,” said Pfc. Joshua Bragger, 388th Chemical Company.
The simulated training in Ocala prepared the Soldiers for their evaluations by producing the after effects of a hurricane impact zone that the units had to respond to.
The key pieces to this training included urban search and rescue, going through confined space and collapsed structure, followed by mass casualty decontamination elements, Mann said.
Role players, played by local volunteers, simulated injured victims trapped in rubble, or affected by a chemical leak, which prompted the Soldiers to set up decontamination tents, medical triage tents, and extract trapped victims.
“We make it challenging for the Soldiers, to ensure that they get something out of the training, and want to come back and do it all over again,” Mann said.
A great deal of the unit integration happens with urban search and rescue, where if any casualties are found the urban search and rescue team will bring those victims out and send them through the mass casualty decontamination, to get them cleaned off so medical treatment can be rendered.
The 546th ASMC Soldiers seamlessly engaged with their Army Reserve counterparts to fulfill the mission in which they all shared.
“Our role in Operation Guardian is to support the chemical companies with mass casualty decontamination, acute trauma treatment, life saving procedures, mitigate human suffering and greater property damage,” Blash said.
The start of phase two for Operation Guardian led the Soldiers to Guardian Center, near Perry, Georgia, a fully-equipped training facility that replicated a small cityscape, complete with collapsed buildings, smashed cars, rubble, radiation active points, fire simulators, underground tunnels and a subway train station.
“This is as real of a scenario that we can hope to practice in. Besides being deployed to another Katrina or another 9/11, this is as close as we could hope to get,” said Sgt. Daniel Keating, team leader with the 493rd.
“This is live rubble piles, live radiation sources, and it’s definitely realistic,” Keating said.
This was the first time Soldiers have trained in the city-like training facility, and were excited to do so.
“Guardian Center is different because it’s a real full scale city, and not just random rubble everywhere, but things like an actual parking garage that was collapsed. Things that we are actually going to see in the real world mission,” Keating said.
Individuals from U.S. Army North, alongside members of several civilian authorities, evaluated the Soldiers, ensuring they fulfilled the task to standard.
“HAZMAT, vehicle machinery extrication, ropes, structural collapse, and trench are the five competencies that we were trained on at Florida State Fire College, and those are the five competencies we will be evaluated on here,” Keating said.
The importance of working with civil authorities added to the benefit of the training for many of the Soldiers.
“Their entire job is doing what we do once a month, so to learn the skills and the tricks of the trade that help them move efficiently is extremely important to us,” Keating said.
Keating, who was recently promoted within his unit, acknowledged direct benefit of the training and learning opportunities, like that of Operation Guardian, provided by the Army Reserve, to his civilian career.
“I just got hired with a fire rescue team in Pensacola, Florida, my hometown. I think the entire reason I got hired is due to the Army,” Keating said. “They gave me my MOS, and they sent me to training school, the fire academy in 2008 and the U.S. Army Reserve Academy in the beginning of 2014.”
Staff Sgt. Robert Matuey, team leader with the 493rd, and civilian firefighter in Mississippi, relayed the feelings many in his unit held about the training during Operation Guardian and at the Guardian Center.
“With the valuable training we’re getting, I know as a task force member on the civilian side, that you would die to have training like this. This is top of the line training right here,” Matuey said.
The final day of the multi-day training, which tested the Soldiers physically and emotionally, was capped off with a huge event, testing every capability simultaneously- search and rescue, radiological exposure.
The cityscape of Guardian Centers, and local volunteer role players provided the background to the multi-level disaster, efficiently handled by U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers.
“The Army Reserve brings a great multitude of different talents, because we’re not just Soldiers, we have other jobs,” said 1st Sgt. Gary Boda, 388th CBRN Company. “We have Soldiers who are doctors, farmers, mechanics, electricians, so we are civilians too, and we understand it’s nice to have someone there to help you and your Family out.
“Save American lives- that’s what we are here to do. To let the public know that they have someone that in their time of need they can come to for help,” Boda said.