Soldiers of the California Army National Guard, 216th Engineer Movement Augmentation Company, trained for search and rescue operations as part of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Response Enterprise mission at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Ind., April 24-25, 2021.
The scenario was part of Guardian Response 2021, a multicomponent Homeland Emergency Response Enterprise run by the Army Reserve’s 78th Training Division. CRE is a Department of Defense set of forces sourced to respond rapidly to domestic Chemical, Biological Radiological or Nuclear incidents and includes Army National Guard and Army Reserve forces.
The unit out of Pomona, Calif., was evaluated during trench rescue, concrete rubble extraction and vehicle extraction scenarios. Teams responded in full hazardous material suits, handling mock chemical threats while maintaining the safety of their team and mock casualties.
“The most challenging thing we have put in place are the CBRN or general hazardous materials. These guys are trained to do the mission that a normal Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or task force team would do, but without those type of hazards,” said Tim Stampley, urban search and rescue evaluation analyst, U.S. Army North, whose team was responsible for planning the training. “We put a great deal of thought into the scenarios. These hazards make [Soldiers] stay within the HAZMAT suit and understand what these hazards can do to their suit as well as the victims.”
Adding to the challenge of working and communicating in a chemical environment, Soldiers fought fatigue and darkness as the mission extended from late afternoon to early morning, with dropping temperatures and a blanket of fog.
“One of the biggest challenges we have faced is conducting this training at night when darkness is your enemy,” said 1st Lt. Dan Garcia, commander, 216th EN MAC. “We want to complete our rescue but do it in controlled motions so we do not create another safety hazard where we have now been placed two steps back.”
Units on the CRE mission must become proficient in a wide range of technical disciplines, including rope rescue, vehicle rescue, structural collapse, rescue machinery and confined spaces. Soldiers must learn, practice and pass the individual tasks, then apply their skills collectively in complex rescue operations.
The day’s training, however, was only one scenario in a multiweek training exercise. Soldiers will be further tested with search and rescues in simulated destroyed buildings, parking garages and even train wreck locations.
“Our goal is to ensure these units go into a catastrophic event with confidence, knowing how to do their job and go home safely,” said Stampley. “It’s all about teamwork. Each situation is new, and each time you can see more and more that they are facing challenges as a team. They muster up that energy and feed off each other when given these tough situations.”