JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. — The 305th Aerial Port Squadron welcomed members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Pennsylvania Task Force 1 to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst for rapid air mobilization training April 21, as part of an ongoing partnership initiative.
FEMA are the nation’s experts in rapid response in case of humanitarian crises and to maintain their qualifications in air transport, they reached out to base officials for training.
“You can talk to people on the phone, but when you get boots on the ground and you’re lifting boxes with them and you’re working side by side, that really helps substantiate the relationship,” said FEMA Lt. Ken Pagurek, Pennsylvania Task Force 1 program manager. “Our cargo being packaged correctly and labeled correctly with the proper paperwork is a very important requirement. By working together, it’s more easily achieved.”
The training was a culmination of nearly two years of collaboration between the agencies and consisted of both lecture and practical application, all geared toward optimizing FEMA’s ability to rapidly deploy in case of a natural disaster requiring airlift.
“It’s like playing Tetris with big, odd shaped cargo,” said Staff Sgt. Amanda Cave, the 305th APS training instructor. “We’re taking their equipment and getting them ready for rapid global mobility, showing them how to place it on the pallet so they can get where they need to go in a timely manner.”
FEMA responds to natural disasters like hurricanes Sandy and Ike, as well as earthquakes like the one that devastated Haiti in 2010. Mobile teams consisting of approximately 80 personnel, trained in search and rescue, extraction and triage care, as well as relief workers deploy to aid affected communities. The joint base is Pennsylvania Task Force 1’s point of departure should they need to be airlifted.
“They have a six-hour window to get here, build their cargo up, get it joint inspected and on a plane out of here,” Cave said. “So hopefully, we’ve given them the tools they need to do that, if it were to ever happen.”
During the training, instructors from the 305th APS and members of the task force’s mobile search and rescue team went through the process from notification to departure. They discussed previous scenarios, paperwork and cargo requirements. Finally, together they built a pallet with required cargo based on aircraft specifications.
“An event like this helps us identify deficiencies that either they or we didn’t think of, and then we can go back, put them down on paper and formulate a plan and move forward so that when there is a national crisis, we can execute as efficiently as possible,” Pagurek said.
“We identified some issues today — getting onto the base was a bit of an issue for us, but if we didn’t do this event, we never would have identified that,” he said. “We’ve already put the wheels in motion to resolve that.”
According to training team members, both instructors and students gained something from the training.
“Some of them are retired military who work as police officers, EMTs or firefighters, and also work for FEMA,” Cave said. “They have to go somewhere at the drop of a dime and help people get through some devastating situations. I was just like ‘Wow.’ I only hope when I get to the point of retirement, that I’m as willing to help people as they are.”