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National Guard practices homeland disaster response

By Col. Richard Goldenberg | New York National Guard | Sept. 10, 2019

ORISKANY, N.Y. – More than 600 National Guard members from New York and New Jersey rehearsed their readiness to respond to chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incidents Sept. 6-8.

The New York National Guard's Homeland Response Force (HRF) is one of 10 to serve as a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Consequence Management Response force.

The force includes:

  • The 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Headquarters in Syracuse, in charge of command and control and providing expandability;
  • Air National Guard communications personnel from the 105th Airlift Wing and 107th Attack Wing, in Newburgh and Niagara Falls, providing Joint Incident Site Communications Capability (JISCC);
  • New Jersey Army National Guard Soldiers from the 154th Quartermaster Company from New Egypt, N.Y. and 50th Chemical Company from Somerset, N.Y., providing a Casualty Assistance and Security Element (CASE);
  • A New York CBRN response task force headquarters from the 153nd Brigade Engineer Battalion command and staff in Buffalo.
  • Decontamination Element personnel from the 642nd Support Battalion in Rochester.
  • Search and Extraction Element Soldiers from B Company, 152nd Brigade Engineer Battalion, at Lockport.
  • A medical triage element from the Airman of the 105th Airlift Wing in Newburgh.
  • A Fatality Search and Recovery Team (FSRT) comprised of Airmen of the 107th Attack Wing in Niagara Falls.

The task force began training this year and will be evaluated in November.

The HRF Soldiers master individual and team skills and then the collective training, said Lt. Col. Joseph Boler, the exercise deputy director from Army North, the external evaluation team.

"These guys will be just fine," Boler said. "They'll crawl, walk and run and be ready for validation."

The Homeland Response Force prepares for search and extraction of disaster victims, incident site security, decontamination, medical treatment and command and control of the mission.

"For us, we know operations and command and control," said Col. Robert Charlesworth, commander of the 27th Infantry Brigade. "We're just adapting to this new environment to make sure we're ready."

"We definitely need this hands-on training," said Spc. Zachary Elliott, part of the decontamination line from the 642nd Aviation Support Battalion. "This is how we learn. PowerPoint is good to learn, but hands-on like this is way better."

The HRF supports New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, aligned with the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region II.

The team trains under Defense Department guidelines to respond to a hazardous materials incident within six to 12 hours.

A key challenge is the physically demanding job of moving casualties on and off litters and conducting decontamination, all while wearing protective clothing and gear, said Pfc. Sarah Cecere, a decontamination member from the 642nd Aviation Support Battalion.

"This gives us a good sense of what we could walk into," Cecere said.