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Missouri National Guard trains with Oklahoma City bombing responders
Missouri National Guard trains with Oklahoma City bombing responders

Members of the 7th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team help extract an "injured" person from a collapsed structure during confined space training at Camp Gruber, Okla.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Oct. 27, 2009) — Teamed with several military organizations, the 7th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team from Fort Leonard Wood participated in confined space training on Oct. 20 and 21 as part of Operation Joint Eagle in Camp Gruber, Okla.

“The unit has not trained a lot in confined space and collapsed structures and this was an excellent opportunity to learn in that environment,” said Lt. Col. Raymond White, the unit commander.

The exercise was conducted by Response International Group, an organization composed of several of the firefighters who responded to the Oklahoma City bombing.

The unit worked with the Illinois National Guard’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package.

“Working side by side with the CERFP helped each team understand its roles and capabilities,” White said. “It was a good exercise to learn to work as a joint team.”

A civil support team’s mission is to assess suspected or known terrorist threats, advise civilian authorities of appropriate responses, and assist local emergency responders in incidents involving weapons of mass destruction and both natural and man-made disasters. The 22-person team, made up of both Army and Air National Guardsmen, must be capable of rolling out an advance group within 90 minutes at all times to investigate potential hazards including mass sickness, mysterious white powders and unidentified contaminations.

CERFP teams respond to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high yield explosive incident or other catastrophic events and assist local, state and federal agencies in conducting consequence management by providing capabilities to conduct personnel decontamination, emergency medical services and casualty search and extraction. They consist of both Army and Air National Guard assets working together in support of civilian emergency personnel for a strong, unified response team.

“The value that we got out of the training was interacting with the CERFP,” said 1st Lt. Richard Sambolin, the unit’s reconnaissance section officer in charge. “Seeing how they operate and how we can integrate into their operations gives us an idea of how that might function in the event of a real-world call.”

The 63rd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team, of Oklahoma, and an active-duty Marine Chemical and Biological Incident Response Force also took part in the exercise.

The scenario was somewhat different from the team’s normal exercises, which usually consist of the team discovering a potential hazard, taking a sample of it, running it through a lab and using the collective data to determine what that threat is.

For this exercise, the unit’s mission was to gather intelligence about the site of the catastrophe, monitor the air quality at the site, determine the source of any type of found contamination and search for and assist injured survivors.

“We were able to do some search and extraction,” Sambolin said. “Even though we have received the training, we haven’t had practice to that extent before. With the casualties displaying the signs and symptoms and having the actual injuries, it gives another look at how those people might behave in a situation like that and how we must deal with that.”

There were two other differences from the unit’s usual training, Sambolin said. The first was that the unit, which wasn’t at its capacity personnel strength, had the opportunity for its members to work in several different positions.

The other difference was that the unit normally sets up at a staging area and works from it, but for this mission, the unit relied on a mobile tactical operations center by driving from site to site.

“It gives us more depth as a team when we cross-train this way,” he said.

The three-person reconnaissance entry squad of Sgt. 1st Class Juan Gallego, Staff Sgt. Robyn Boatright and Sgt. Brian Harvey, who were backed up by the unit’s decontamination section of Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Uptegrove and Staff Sgt. Yvonne Lugo, did all of the hands-on work for the team.

“We were able to integrate the decon into the recon section and that’s an opportunity that they haven’t had before to see how we do operations,” Sambolin said.

The team opened with a small-scale scenario that involved responding to the collapse of a water treatment plant with three injured survivors, who were played by actors, followed by a scenario with a larger building collapse that included about 30 injured survivors, a potentially leaking tanker scenario and another collapsed structure scenario.

Gallego called it a good training experience with a CERFP.

“I learned, if a real situation was to occur, where our place is, as well as how we can use them and they can use us to make the situation better,” he said.

Handling the injured people was an interesting wrinkle to the training, Gallego said.

“It was good to do something out of the box and not of the norm,” Gallego said.

In addition to taking care of the injured, Harvey said he learned a lot by crawling through the collapsed structures.

“It was good to be in a more realistic situation with extracting civilian casualties through rubble, instead of just always going through regular door and going to the target,” Harvey said. “Having to navigate around, over and under rubble made it interesting. It’s a lot different crawling around with an air tank on your back and having to squeeze through spaces. With the civilian casualties, it was a lot more chaotic.”

Once the survivors were taken to a safe zone, they received first aid from the unit’s medic, Staff Sgt. Jason Allabaugh, Sambolin and Maj. Jeffrey Ford, who was in the role of operations officer. The CERFP was then called in to transport the injured to a nearby hospital.

The exercises focused on several different items, among them producing plume models that determine the likely spread of contamination in the past, present and future, based on wind strength and direction, as well as temperature, by the unit’s operations modeler, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Lemley.

“The purpose of the modeling is to give the incident commander an indication on where to evacuate people, where to isolate and where to shelter and place, so that he can have the best public safety in his objectives,” Lemley said.

Although Lemley always puts together models of the threat areas at every exercise, normally he does less in-depth models based on the unit’s assumptions of what the contaminant might be.

“Our job is usually to assess and advise on an unknown product,” Lemley said. “So generally we’ll do a past plume on an unknown, just to give an indication of where it may have gone, so it’s a guess at that point. So as we gather more information about the product, we boil it down to the known product and then start producing present and future plumes.”

In these scenarios, the containment was already a known factor, which allowed Lemley to put his modeling expertise to a more precise use.

“I think the exercise stressed the importance of pre-modeling before they enter a site to give them an indication of where the product may have gone,” Lemley said. “It gives the reconnaissance team an objective on where to start their surveys to see where the product may be.”

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