Air Guard participates in state disaster exercise

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain
  • 149th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Medical professionals from the three major Texas Air National Guard units, Fort Worth's 136th Airlift Wing, Houston's 147th Reconnaissance Wing, and the San Antonio-based 149th Fighter Wing, were attached the state's Joint Task Force 71, a homeland response force, to participate in a disaster response exercise near Austin, Texas, on Apr. 25-27, 2012.

Joint Task Force 71 (JTF-71), dubbed the "Minuteman Brigade," is a standing unit of the Texas Military Forces and serves as a force multiplier for civilian partners during times of emergency.

Army Lt. Col. Les Edwards, commander of the 6 CBRNE Emergency Response Force Package (CERF-P), a subcomponent of JTF-71, is in charge of over 150 Soldiers and Airmen that serve as front-line responders during a disaster. While they serve in the state's military forces, their actions are coordinated at the direction of a civilian incident commander.

Edwards explained that within the Defense Support for Civil Authorities (DSCA) program, homeland response forces (HRF), like JTF-71, have been developed and are "divided into command and control elements, search and extraction, decontamination, medical and security teams."

In a real-world disaster, the Texas Military Forces support local officials in coordination with the state's Division of Emergency Management, a section within the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Texas HRFs are trained to respond within the Federal Emergency Management Administration's (FEMA) Region VI, which includes Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Utah.

The scenario for this training operation involves the response to an aerial dispersal of chemical agents, as well as a plane crash and several explosions. The primary activities took place at the retired Govalle Water Treatment Facility, which was used to simulate property near Darryl K. Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium, on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.

"Our job is to come in and assess the situation," Edwards said of his emergency responders. "We've been told there might be a particular mustard gas that's in the area. We'll extract and decontaminate the individuals and provide medical treatment."

Craig Parkhill, a civilian emergency management professional with the Texas Army National Guard, served as the civilian incident commander. "Identification and accountability of work crews," were among Parkhill's initial guidance to the military officials. "Report any structural damage and anything that could impede the recovery operation."

Participants suited up into protective gear to respond to the simulated attack. Victim searches were conducted and survivors were processed through decontamination points.

Occurring concurrent to recovery efforts was the establishment of mobile medical treatment centers, which was directed by a Texas Air Guard medical plans and operations officer.

"We serve as a mobile emergency room. We train together, [and] learn to operate as a tight team," said Air Force Capt. Wayne Hill, officer-in-charge of the air medical operations for the simulated response effort. "We're coordinating and planning the initial medical response at the site and managing the movement and set up of personnel to begin and sustain operations."

Stationed at the 149th Fighter Wing at Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio, Texas, Hill operates a geographically separated unit (GSU) of JTF-71 and trains with other officers and enlisted Airmen for such incidents when they join forces with civil authorities and the Army Guard.

"We function as three separate entities, but come together as one team, to protect the public," Hill said.