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Force support, medical teams rehearse disaster response in Guam

Lt. Col. John Hall, a flight surgeon with the 162nd Medical Group, visits a mock patient with simulated burn injuries at an expeditionary medical support facility, or EMEDS, in Guam. Vigilant Guard 2010, held Aug. 23-26 on the pacific island, exercised the disaster response capabilities of several Guard units from around the country as well as those of local emergency responders. (Air Force photo)

Lt. Col. John Hall, a flight surgeon with the 162nd Medical Group, visits a mock patient with simulated burn injuries at an expeditionary medical support facility, or EMEDS, in Guam. Vigilant Guard 2010, held Aug. 23-26 on the pacific island, exercised the disaster response capabilities of several Guard units from around the country as well as those of local emergency responders. (Air Force photo)

GUAM -- The 162nd Fighter Wing deployed 55 force support and medical experts to Guam for Vigilant Guard, Aug. 23-26.

The primary goal of the exercise was to enhance the coordination between military and civilian agencies, such as the Department of Public Health and Social Services, Guam Homeland Security and the Office of Civil Defense and local police and fire departments.

A simulated earthquake, a pandemic and a series of other replicated disasters tested responders' skills as well as interagency coordination.

The 162nd Force Support Squadron's 11-man Fatality Search and Recovery Team's (FSRT) primary mission during the exercise entailed retrieving fatalities from an environment contaminated by chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosives (CBRNE) and ensured they were properly decontaminated before turning them over to a medical examiner for burial.

"Contaminated environments pose a particular hazard because the CBRNE material is still potentially lethal to anyone exposed to residual traces until decontamination is complete," said Master Sgt. Michael Hawkings, FSRT non-commissioned officer in charge.

The FSRT is attached to the Hawaii National Guard's CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package (CERF-P) as a capability they employ when there are fatalities involved in a large scale incident.

Vigilant Guard 2010 called the CERF-P and FSRT into action to rescue personnel trapped in a rubble pile in a contaminated environment.

This exercise proved to be unique because it incorporated the California and Hawaii CERF-P's and Arizona's FSRT together for the very first time.

"This brought significant challenges with communication and role assignment in the beginning. However, the three states worked together and merged into a highly functioning team as the exercise progressed," said Sergeant Hawkins.

"Our Airmen worked in commercial chemical ensembles in a hot, humid environment and performed like they have done it a hundred times before. Once the CERF-P's knew who we were and why we were there, they really appreciated the assistance," he said.

The 162nd Medical Group sent 44 members to set up an expeditionary medical support facility, or EMEDS.

"We had 24 hours to set it up because the exercise was kicking off at 8 the next morning," said Maj. Christine Rhodes, deputy group commander. "We started unpacking 18 pallets to put it all together. We had thunderstorms in between, and then there was a 5.5 real-world earthquake while we were doing it. But despite the elements our folks worked really well together. We had everything set up and ready to roll at 8 a.m. the next day."

The scenario put medical personnel through the paces of treating victims of a simulated building collapse and "H7N7 Dragon Flu," a fictitious pandemic. With local hospitals overwhelmed, the 162nd was able to step in.

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"They hired a contractor that did all the moulage. It was very realistic. On some of the wounds we had to do a double-take to check if they were real or not," said Major Rhodes.

"They had a rubble pile for the FSRT portion with concrete, a wrecked ship, and a bus - that's how big this stuff was. It was crushed down like an earthquake hit and there were patients in there. They drilled through, rescued the patients, decontaminated them, passed them to a first-level medical element that stabilized them, and then sent them to the EMEDs. That's where we got them and either air evacuated them, ground transported them out or released them," she said.

"The 162nd team performed flawlessly alongside Guard members from numerous states. This exercise validates our missions and illustrates there is a need for our team. I'm very proud of our team performance in this exercise," Sergeant Hawkins said.