NEWS | June 27, 2022

34th CERFP conducts CTE in Virginia Beach

By Mike Vrabel | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

Virginia and District of Columbia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen conducted a mass casualty response drill as part of a collective training exercise May 24 - 27, 2022, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. 

The Soldiers and Airmen are assigned to the Richmond-based 34th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-Yield Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package, which provided search and extraction, decontamination, medical support and fatality management during the mock CBRNE response at the State Military Reservation and the Virginia Beach Fire Training Center. 

During the four-day training event, the group responded to different mock scenarios, forcing the team to use the full spectrum of their capabilities in challenging weather conditions. 

“We trained for chemical attacks, secondary explosions with extensive structural collapse and the use of dirty bombs to disperse radioactive materials – all into crowded, urban areas,” said 1st Lt. Lindsey Otto, the 34th CERFP’s operations officer. “Days started and ended with hot, humid, and wet conditions. The team did an extraordinary job overcoming the natural weather of early summer Virginia. They pushed themselves to make the most of the event and I believe that they succeeded.”

While the decontamination and medical elements of the task force conducted their training at SMR, the search and extraction element trained simultaneously at the Virginia Beach Fire Training Center, using a rubble pile to simulate damage from an explosion. The separate training locations presented some communications challenges, which required some ingenuity to overcome. 

“Due to construction in the training area, we had to split the task force to train in two areas, with about a mile of urban development and dense pine forest in between,” said Otto. “Collective training in geographically disparate areas is incredibly difficult for our mission set and one of the most significant challenges was communication.  Fortunately for us, Staff Sgt. Robert Brown, the task force’s system administrator, developed a creative solution. By resourcing roof-space from 329th Regional Support Group armory, he developed a communications link with UHF directional antennas. His out-of-the box thinking established an area-wide network between all elements and was crucial for enabling training all week.”

Chief Master Sgt. John F. Nye, the Virginia Air National Guard’s CERFP senior enlisted leader,  highlighted one additional team member for her exemplary efforts during the CTE. Nye said Tech. Sgt. Katelyn King, the CERFP’s full-time operations noncommissioned officer, worked with her Army counterparts to organize and plan the medical element’s CTE response, and shifted gears once the exercise was in full swing. 

“Once in the field, King changes pace and assumes the role of NCOIC of the medical tactical operations center to provide essential command and control of all medical operations, both in the hot and cold zones,” said Nye. “She tracked element personnel, equipment status, essential pharmaceuticals, civilian patient throughput and overall medical readiness for the entire task force. As a third role in the exercise, King also stepped out of the training scenario to provide real-world expertise to the 192nd Wing Inspection Team to inspect performance and readiness of all medical triage crews in the cold zone, hot zone and those embedded in the Army search and extraction element. King’s efforts enabled the task force to be fully prepared, highly proficient and well-represented in a complex and essential element.”

Retired Maj. Gen. Craig Crenshaw, the Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs, Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, and Brig. Gen. James W. Ring, the VNG Director of the Joint Staff, visited the task force during the training and thanked the CERFP team for their hard work, which continued even as the senior leaders looked on. 

“Their brief visit was interrupted by a high priority training inject: two Airmen down in the cold zone, cause unknown,” said Otto. “The staff jumped right back into the game without missing a beat. They swiftly executed the entire battle drill, provided initial reports, shared clear and essential communications and began outsourcing from external organizations to both fill the manning and continue to support the elements. The staff showed these key leaders exactly what we offer as a Tier 1 asset: diligent, expert professionals, ready and capable to respond to any emergency.”

The CERFP is capable of providing support to first responders and civilian authorities after a chemical, biological or nuclear incident. The team includes both Army and Air National Guard units from Richmond, Petersburg, West Point, Rocky Mount and Langley Air Force Base, as well as Airmen from the Washington, D.C. National Guard. The team is capable of conducting tasks including consequence management, incident site communications, urban search and rescue, mass causality decontamination, technical decontamination, medical triage and stabilization and human remains recovery. 

The CERFP is unique in that it is a task force that includes elements from multiple different units rather than one specific unit:

  • Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the Richmond-based Joint Force Headquarters – Virginia provide command and control and incident management.
  • Soldiers assigned to the Rocky Mount-based 229th Chemical Company serve as a mass casualty decontamination element.
  • Soldiers from the West Point-based 237th Engineer Company operate as the search and extraction element.
  • Airmen assigned to the 192nd Medical Group stationed at Langley Air Force Base provide the mass casualty medical triage and treatment element.
  • Airmen assigned to the 192nd Cyber Operations Squadron at Langley Air Force Based provide communications capability using the Joint Incident Site Communications Capability, or JISCC.
  • Airmen assigned to the Washington, D.C. National Guard’s 113th Force Support Squadron operate as a fatality search and recovery team.

If an incident requiring CERFP support occurs, Soldiers and Airmen are alerted through the Virginia National Guard’s Joint Operations Center and mobilized on state active duty. If the incident is located within Virginia they would proceed to the incident site and fall under the control of the incident commander. If the incident is located outside of Virginia, Joint Force Headquarters – Virginia would coordinate with the receiving state under the terms agreed to in the Emergency Mutual Aid Compact.

Virginia’s 34th CERFP was authorized in June 2006. There are currently 27 CERFP teams available nationwide with three in FEMA Region 3 in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.

Read more about the 34th CERFP at https://ngpa.us/19903

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