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FSRT members train like they respond

1st Lt. Lenton Johnson helps Tech. Sgt. Edwin Bello secure his chemical protective suit at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, April 10, 2016. These airmen are members of the 149th Force Support Squadron, Fatality Search and Recovery Team. Members of the FSRT are training on how to move into a contaminated area and recover remains after a chemical disaster. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Eric L. Wilson)

1st Lt. Lenton Johnson helps Tech. Sgt. Edwin Bello secure his chemical protective suit at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, April 10, 2016. These airmen are members of the 149th Force Support Squadron, Fatality Search and Recovery Team. Members of the FSRT are training on how to move into a contaminated area and recover remains after a chemical disaster. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Eric Wilson)

1st Lt. Lenton Johnson, 149th Force Support Squadron, Texas Air National Guard, headquartered at Join Base San Antonio-Lackland, waits while Tech. Sgt. Edwin Bello, also 149th FSS, adjusts his chemical protective mask at JBSA-Lackland, Texas, April 10, 2016. These airmen are members of the 149th FSS Fatality Search and Recovery Team. These FSRT members are training on how to move into a contaminated area and recover remains after a chemical disaster. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Eric L. Wilson)

1st Lt. Lenton Johnson, 149th Force Support Squadron, Texas Air National Guard, headquartered at Join Base San Antonio-Lackland, waits while Tech. Sgt. Edwin Bello, also 149th FSS, adjusts his chemical protective mask at JBSA-Lackland, Texas, April 10, 2016. These airmen are members of the 149th FSS Fatality Search and Recovery Team. These FSRT members are training on how to move into a contaminated area and recover remains after a chemical disaster. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Eric Wilson)

Tech. Sgt. Cory Johnson, 149th Force Support Squadron, Texas Air National Guard, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio, takes notes during a training event at JBSA-Lackland, Texas, April 10, 2016. He is a member of the 149th FSS Fatality Search and Recovery Team.  These FSRT members are training on how to move into a contaminated area and recover remains after a chemical disaster. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Eric L. Wilson)

Tech. Sgt. Cory Johnson, 149th Force Support Squadron, Texas Air National Guard, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio, takes notes during a training event at JBSA-Lackland, Texas, April 10, 2016. He is a member of the 149th FSS Fatality Search and Recovery Team. These FSRT members are training on how to move into a contaminated area and recover remains after a chemical disaster. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Eric Wilson)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - LACKLAND, Texas -- A Texas Air National Guard Fatality Search and Recover Team from
the 149th Fighter Wing's Force Support Squadron traveled
to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, April 15-17, to participate in Vigilant
Guard, a federally-funded disaster response exercise.

It was honestly a lot of fun," said Airman 1st Class Amanda Robles,
the newest member of the 149th FSRT. Robles was able to attend
only one training at Joint Base San Antonio, her home base, prior
to traveling to Louisiana. "I was really nervous going into it, but
once we got into it, and I got to do a lot of the hands-on stuff, and
the scenarios felt real, it was awesome. That's why I wanted to join
the military in the first place - to do all the hands-on stuff."

FSRTs in each state fall under a Chemical, Biological, Radiological,
Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package,
or CERFP. Under the CERFP umbrella, FSRTs generally deploy along
with search and extraction teams, emergency medical personnel,
and decontamination units.

"I had a good time," said Airman 1st Class Nathan Warren, who
has been with the 149th FSRT for a little over a year. "I get kind of
giddy when I see big collaborations like that. I looked around and
saw all these different agencies during their part, but how we also
came together as one cohesive unit. I also got to see how well the
Army and the Air Force interacted with one another and just how
fluid that communication and that relationship is."

There are 27 total FSRTs in the United States, and the Texas Air
National Guard's 11-membered team is the only one in the entire
state.

The mission of the TXANG's FSRT is to find and recover the remains
of those involved in a CBRNE fatality," said 1st Lt. Melissa Spencer,
the officer-in-charge of the 149th FSS FSRT. "The team may also act
as relief support to an overwhelmed FSRT or swap out equipment
and personnel with other people already on the scene."

For Vigilant Guard, the Texas FSRT worked alongside other CERFPs from Louisiana and Florida.

"A lot of it is figuring out how you play with someone who doesn't
play like you," said Spencer, referring to the different processes of
the other agencies involved. "So it was a great opportunity to learn
how to work with other teams who may not do things exactly like
your team does them and to prepare our people for real-world
situations."

Master Sgt. Celia Bautista, the 149th FSRT non-commissioned officer
in charge, agreed that learning to work together plays a huge
role in the exercise.

"The program provides state National Guard units an opportunity
to improve cooperation and relationships with their regional, civilian,
military and federal partners in preparation for emergencies
and catastrophic events," she said.

This year marked the first time that the 149th FSRT participated
in the exercise. Despite it being a relatively new program, roughly
five years old, Bautista said she was proud of her team's involvement.

"They definitely set the bar," she said. "Texas absolutely represented.
I was so pleased with how well they handled everything and
how fluid they looked in relation to the other states."

In fact, Bautista has been invited to come to Seattle to observe and
facilitate another exercise being conducted there.

"The invitation was a complete reflection of how well the entire
team did during the exercise," she said. "They absolutely smoked it."

According to Bautista, recognition and accolades are nice but they
aren't what's important. For her and her teammates, it's more of a
sacred service.

"My team is trained to go into chemical environments that no one
else wants to go into and safely recover the remains of loved ones
in an honorable way for their family members," she said. "If we can
bring some closure and peace to that type of situation, then we've
done what we were supposed to do, and honestly, what better way
to serve the American people."