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NEWS | July 7, 2014

Virginia Guard aviators join multiple agencies in large-scale disaster drill

By Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti Virginia National Guard

CHESTERFIELD, Va. - Virginia Army National Guard flight crews from the Chesterfield-based Detachment 2, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment provided medical evacuation support to a National Disaster Medical System Full-Scale Exercise at the Chesterfield County Airport during their two week annual training. The exercise included about 150 participants from more than 20 local, federal and state agencies.

"The NDMS exercise was a great opportunity to work with local agencies and exercise how we fall in on and support those agencies," said Capt. J. Erin Jones, commander of the unit. "The NDMS exercise was also the first opportunity we have had to practice a patient transfer with the medical equipment configured on the aircraft and the medics providing en route medical care."

NDMS is a federally coordinated system that augments the medical response capability nationally. The NDMS aims to create an integrated national medical response capability to assist state and local authorities in handling the medical impacts of a major peacetime disaster or to provide support to the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs medical system in caring for casualties evacuated back to the United States from overseas conflicts. NDMS identifies sites across the nation as patient receiving sites, where patients impacted by a major disaster can be transported to in order to alleviate the strain on hospitals and medical facilities in the impacted area.

The Chesterfield County Airport is designated as a patient receiving site, and the county is responsible for having plans and procedures in place that outline the roles and responsibilities associated with the activation of the NDMS. A full-scale exercise is required to be conducted once every three years.

The scenario for this year's exercise involved an earthquake affecting the Memphis, Tennessee, area, with casualties from that incident requiring transport to medical facilities outside of the impacted area. In the scenario, two C-130 airplanes arrived with 50 patients each, all requiring medical attention. The majority of the "patients," played by actors from various organizations, were transported via ambulance to local hospitals, but two "patients," played by Soldiers of the 135th, were transferred to Charlottesville via HH-60 Black Hawk helicopters where they, along with two flight medics, traveled via ambulance to the medical center at the University of Virginia.

"From the beginning, my goal as commander has been for each of my Soldiers to be exceptionally proud to be a part of this unit and the unit's mission," Jones said. "I thought that if we could accomplish that, then everything else would naturally follow and the unit would be the best it could possibly be."Along the way, the flight medics reacted to the "injuries" of the "patients," monitoring their vitals and providing updates to the flight crews along the way.

"As a Guard unit we must train for both our deployment mission and for state disaster-relief missions," Jones said.

Agencies involved in the exercise included the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, various Chesterfield County agencies, Community Emergency Response Teams from Chesterfield, Henrico and Colonial Heights, the Civil Air Patrol, Richmond Ambulance Authority, rescue squads from the surrounding area and the Central Virginia All-Hazards Incident Management Team.

The opportunity to participate in the exercise, held on June 7, allowed the Soldiers of the unit to experience working with multiple agencies and allowed them to solidify procedures for patient transport to the University of Virginia hospital.

"The NDMS exercise allowed our unit to demonstrate our capabilities and mission to a broad range of agencies at both the state and federal level," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Shane Leipertz, one of the standardization pilots for the Virginia Guard and a member of the medevac detachment. "The exercise also allowed us to exercise our MEDEVAC plan for the use of the University of Virginia Medical Center furthering our Virginia Guard aviation medical air evacuation readiness."

"It was an ideal partnership," said Michelle Oblinsky, deputy coordinator of emergency management for Chesterfield County and exercise director, of working with the medevac detachment. "They're fantastic to work with."

During the unit's two-week annual training, they also conducted live hoist training for the first time, worked with students at Fort Lee on medical evacuation techniques, trained with Soldiers from the U.S. Army Reserve at Camp Pendleton in Virginia Beach, and participated in an exercise with the Virginia Guard's Chesterfield-based Detachment 1, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment and Chesterfield fire and rescue teams.

"Annual Training 2014 for the 135th Dustoff was purposeful and relevant," Leipertz said. "Simply put, we tested the unit and the unit performed. Superior performance is not something that comes easy - it's deliberate, very deliberate. Job well done by all.