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Tucson ANG specialized team returns to in-person, combined training to support domestic operations

  • Published
  • By Maj. Angela Walz
  • 162nd Wing

An 11-person Fatality Search and Recovery Team (FSRT) from the Tucson Air National Guard’s 162nd Force Support Squadron (FSS) traveled to Las Vegas this week to conduct in-person combined training with other Air and Army National Guard units that make up the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region 9 Chemical, Biological, Radiological/Nuclear, and Explosive (CBRNE) - Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) to once again train to support domestic operations if called upon to do so.

The training event garnered the attention of distinguished visitors including: Brigadier General Troy Armstrong, Nevada Army National Guard Land Component Commander; Mr. John Lee, Mayor of North Las Vegas; Mr. James Gibson, Clark County Commissioner; and several Congressional staffers. Lt. Col. Ryan Avery, 162nd FSS Commander, and Chief Master Sergeant Raul Verdugo, 162nd FSS Senior Enlisted Leader, also attended the training event.

The CERFP, as well as the FSRT team from Tucson, will be recertified next year in a similar training event. “This is a volunteer mission, and our Airmen go into it knowing that they will likely exceed their traditional one weekend per month/two weeks per year obligation due to the amount of training involved,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Avery.  “These are dedicated men and women who give us the flexibility to fulfill our National Guard motto. We really are ‘always ready, always there,’ he said.

For real-world scenarios, the FSRT is prepared to travel with two large climate-controlled tents, two large refrigeration units, three Polaris Rangers for averse travel conditions, and communications equipment to support their fatality recovery mission. FSRT team members travel on “special training” orders to accomplish the extensive training required of their mission.  

The additional training that is required of FSRT members does not impose a burden on the individual Guard units, however. “As a Homeland Defense mission, funding to support CERFPs comes from a different pot of money,” explained Chief Master Sergeant Raul Verdugo. “We can support state and federal missions as dictated by our Governor, but the FSRT intent is to support the CERFP mission in the southwestern region of United States,” he said

Although CERFPs haven’t met since mid-2019 to conduct in-person training, the 6 teams that make up the Region 9 CERFP – (1) FSRT, 11 members; (2) Command and Control, 16 members; (3) Medical, 45 members; (4) Decontamination, 75 members; (5) Search and Extraction, 50 members; and (6) Joint Incident Site Communications Capability, 6 members – picked up right where they left off.

The scenario that was created to support the exercise in Las Vegas was built from a Pima County playbook and included a “sulfur” incident in which a large area was chemically contaminated on the campus of The University of Arizona. Each CERFP component had specific objectives, and the FSRT’s goals were to complete the initial set-up of their tents and refrigeration units within 90 minutes, to conduct a detailed search and recovery within their assigned sector of the contamination area, and to coordinate with the local Medical Examiner to assist with the removal of victims.

“It was great to train again as a team, and practice what we do in support of domestic operations,” said Capt. Jacob Thoman, 162nd FSS Officer in Charge of the FSRT. “The more we practice, the more proficient we become,” he said.

The FEMA Region 9 office is located in Oakland, California, and oversees federal emergency management for the states of Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and the territories of Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia.