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Home : News : News
NEWS | April 3, 2014

Army North CSTA train up Guard, Reserve units for homeland mission

By Staff Sgt. Corey Baltos Army North Public Affairs

A man lies on his stomach, low crawling through the darkness of a tunnel. The ground above, along with the air all around him, has been contaminated by a vehicle-borne explosive device that detonated and released a radiological hazard into the air.

He stops and listens intently, his hearing muffled by the hazardous materials suit he's wearing. He listens for the voice, the voice of a man calling out for help. He hears the voice and he continues his quest through the tunnel to find the man and rescue him.

Fortunately, this was all part of a training exercise. There was no one calling for help ... but it could have been real.

That is why Spc. Mike Richardson, a firefighter with the 1440th Engineer Detachment, Michigan National Guard, was in Ocala, Fla. the week of March 17 crawling through tunnels and sweating in his HAZMAT suit.

Richardson and the rest of his unit, as well as the 493rd Engineer Detachment, an Army Reserve unit from Pascagoula, Miss., were being certified to conduct search and rescue missions in a Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear environment by Hotel Division, Civil Support Training Activity-Central, U.S. Army North (Fifth Army).

The two units have been tapped to join other specialized units as part of Command and Control CBRN Response Elements Alpha and Bravo for fiscal year 2015. It is the CSTA's job to make sure the units are trained and certified to assume the mission.

Even though the two units being run through the gamut are engineering units, the majority of the Soldiers are firefighters, so the units are informally referred to as fire fighting detachments.

Engineering units assigned to the C2CRE task forces underwent training and certification by the Florida State Fire College, on search and rescue operations before undergoing Army North's certification all in preparation for their upcoming mission.

While it's mostly fire fighters who train at the fire college, the Army sends all engineering units undertaking the nation's Defense Support of Civil Authorities mission to Florida to undergo the search and rescue training.

"Engineers are useful during search and rescue operations because of their expertise on structural weakness and ability to build shoring devices," said Shane Alexander, program coordinator, firefighting, urban search and rescue, Florida State Fire College.

"The Soldiers are trained on the five disciplines of search and rescue operations: rope rescue, confined space, trench rescue, vehicle and machine extraction and structural collapse," Alexander said.

The training was well received by the fire fighters, many of whom also work as civilian fire fighters.

"This is great," said Spc. Levi West, a fire fighter with the 1440th Eng. Det. "Some people wait their entire careers to get this type of training."

Sgt. 1st Class Bruce Dunckel, commander of the 493rd Eng. Det., agreed with West's assessment.

"It normally takes a couple of years to get all of these certifications," said Dunckel, who works as a fire fighter at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. in his civilian capacity.

One of the benefits of being trained at the fire college was all instructors are currently serving as fire fighters in the central Florida area.

"We don't operate under the, 'those who can't - teach,' view here," said Don Campbell, lead instructor, fire fighting, urban search and rescue, Florida State Fire College. "Every one of our instructors is hand selected by our chief instructor from currently serving fire fighters. So the Soldiers learn from people at the top of their game."

Once the Soldiers learn about search and rescue operations at the college, it's up to the team from Army North to continue the training and make sure they are ready to begin by Oct. 1.

"CSTA puts together an excellent training venue for these units," said Ted Lopez, H division team chief with CSTA-Central. "These search and rescue teams are the highest technically skilled warriors we have in support of the CBRN Response Enterprise."

Part of Army North's evaluation included assessing the fire fighters' abilities to carry out their mission while dressed in full HAZMAT protective gear.

"These Soldiers are here to save lives and mitigate pain and suffering," Lopez said.

"Most of their civilian counterparts are not trained to conduct this type of operation while wearing a HAZMAT suit, but the Soldiers are."

C2CRE-A and C2CRE-B are part of the federal government's response force capabilities in the event of a catastrophic CBRN disaster in the United States.

If such an incident were to happen, the first responders would be the local civil authorities followed by the state's civil support teams. However, if the incident proved too big for the local and state capabilities, they still have another option. The federal government can provide additional capabilities, including either or both of the C2CREs.

When directed by the Department of Defense one of the nation's two C2CRE teams, each made up of 1,500 assigned personnel, deploy as part of the federal response to assist local first responders. These units, coming from all over the country, provide support by assessing a CBRN incident, providing search and rescue operations, decontamination, emergency medical support, security and logistics support.

For the CSTA training scenario the two units were working under the guise of a vehicle-borne explosive device that detonated, causing severe damage to nearby buildings and releasing a radiological hazard into the air.

The teams were tasked with finding and extracting survivors from the area and decontaminating them before turning them over to medical personnel for evaluation and treatment if needed.

The Soldiers used all of their skills to rescue the survivors, as they found them in cars that were underneath rubble, trapped in tunnels and other places difficult to get to.

"Vehicles are piled up and there is rubble everywhere. You can't just start moving stuff around or breaking stuff ... it's too unstable," said Sgt. George Zahornacki, 1440th Engineering Detachment.

Before he and Spc. Scott Clark could rescue people trapped in their cars, they first had to prop up and tie the jumbled cars together so they wouldn't collapse as he and his fellow Soldiers struggled to cut through a damaged vehicle to rescue a survivor.

A new twist for the Soldiers was rescuing and decontaminating non-human survivors.

"One of the things we learned during Hurricane Katrina is that people don't want to leave their pets," said Mark Stiftinger, operations evaluation analyst, H Division, CSTA.

While rescuing animals is not currently part of CSTA's training evaluation, the requirements are currently being written at the U.S. Army Chemical School, with the assistance of CSTA.

"The basic concept so far is cats or dogs that are service animals, or are accompanied by an owner and not injured, will go through an ambulatory line," said Mark Welch, deputy chief of operations, CSTA. "Animals that are injured or not accompanied will be caged and likely sedated and sent though a non-ambulatory line."

Even though the units have been certified by Army North to assume their parts of the C2CRE mission, they will continue to train at their home stations and will receive quarterly sustainment training from CSTA before heading to Vibrant Response 14 this summer.

At VR14, which will take place in Indiana July 13-Aug. 13, C2CRE-A and B will be validated together as one team.