JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
The Virginia Air National Guard’s 192nd Medical Group Detachment 1 tested a new tent system in April and May in Richmond and Virginia Beach to prepare for an external evaluation.
During May’s collective training event held May 15-25, 2023, the Airmen were able to fully test their capabilities with the new tents alongside their 34th CERFP counterparts consisting of Virginia and District of Columbia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen.
The Soldiers and Airmen are assigned to the Richmond-based 34th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-Yield Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP), 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.
“Previously for our exercises, we had a tent system that was very bulky and very difficult to put up, which took a lot of people to do,” said Chief Master Sgt. John Nye, 192nd MDG Det-1 senior enlisted leader. “We have now been supplied with a tent that, in essence, just blows up. And that takes a whole lot less time and people to do that, allowing us to get started out there on the footprint faster when we arrive at a disaster site.”
The 192nd MDG Det-1 was one of the first few units to receive this new tent system and the first to be required to use it during an EXEVAL that the Army Interagency Training and Education Center conducts and oversees, along with personnel from the National Guard Bureau.
“From the time we arrive at the disaster site to start being able to treat patients is supposed to be 90 minutes,” said Lt. Col. Zachary Hoffman, 192nd MDG Det-1 A Flight superintendent. “We’ve always aimed for a 60 minute mark and have always made that. But I think this will be less than 30 minutes - it will cut 50% of the time off with a 90% reduction in manual effort. It’s a game changer. I’m excited to use them.”
Previously, when they arrived at a given location, a large number of people had to work on putting the tents up and it took a heavy load of manual effort from multiple Airmen. Once the tents were up, then they could start getting the medical equipment into the tents.
“These tents are brand new to us,” said Staff Sgt. Jacqueline Patterson, 192nd MDG aerospace medical technician. “These are inflatable so it takes a lot less time and manpower to get them up. It makes the whole process go a lot quicker. From the time you start inflating the tent, it’s supposed to be fully up within five to six minutes. While it’s inflating, you can be doing other things to get equipment ready to go into the tent.”
“It decreases the risk of losing an Airman to a heat casualty or exhaustion injury or even in the process of setting up the tent, getting hurt,” said Lt. Col. Sarah E. Handegard, 192nd MDG Det-1 commander. “It decreases the risk of one of my Airmen getting hurt. Once they start getting the tent populated and treating patients, they’re still fresh and ready to go. So we don’t have to take people out and give rest periods as often up front because they’re not as exhausted compared to the old system.”
There are four total tents that need to be set up at a disaster site - a rehab tent, two treatment tents and a departure tent. The first to go up is the rehab tent, which allows them to start treating CERFP members that are actually working the disaster.
“In the rehab tent we do pre-screening before we go in our suits - all our vitals are checked before we go in the suit and throughout the day,” said Senior Airman Aliyah Brickhouse, 192nd MDG aerospace medical technician.
The treatment tents are set up together typically into one large tent where all medical care occurs, up to ICU level care. The departure tent is where patients who have been stabilized or downgraded go to sit in a holding area that still has medical care, and is where they would interface with the civilian world for ambulances to transfer them to local hospitals or until they’re well enough to go home.
“The bottom line is it gets us treating patients faster and that’s the goal in general of response to any exercise or real world disaster - to make sure we can provide the best care as fast as we possibly can,” said Handegard. “To be able to set up quickly and populate the tent with all of our equipment, we are ready and waiting to receive those patients that are walking up, coming through decon, or being brought over by Search and Extraction team, and we can get to treating them faster versus having to wait and possibly losing a life in the meantime. The faster we respond, the more likely we are to save a life.”