Thursday, May 17, 2012

New York National Guard Homeland Response Force validation training lifts off

By Army National Guard Spc. J.p. Lawrence, New York National Guard

ORISKANY, N.Y. -- About 1,000 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen worked with New York Guard volunteers at the New York State Preparedness Center here as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency II Homeland Response Force validation training, May 15.

The FEMA II Homeland Response Force - which is a robust, specialized, rapid-response task force made up of National Guard Soldiers and Airmen to reinforce first responders in times of disaster - included members of the New Jersey, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands National Guards. The HRF

The organization supports civil authorities in response to Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) or Hazardous Material incidents that requiring the evacuation, decontamination and medical triage of casualties.

During the validation Soldiers from the New York Army National Guard‘s 1156th Engineer Company were given one simple task: move a concrete cube from point A to point B.

The only problem was that the concrete cube weighed two tons, and they had to move it 75 feet around obstacles while using only rollers, wood beams and pry bars.

Moving the cube was an exercise meant to build communications skills within the Soldiers in the event they are called to rescue civilians from collapsed buildings save lives in the real world.

“Pretend it’s your mother under that block,” said Army Sgt. Ivan Martinez, team leader of the Search and Extraction Team. “[We’ve got to] rescue her.”

The Soldiers dug their pry bars into the ground. “On my command - Go, go, go,” he said to his team as they attempted to move the cube.

The cube rose into the air. Soldiers placed black metal cylinders in front of it and pushed. The cube moved down a hasty path Soldiers made out of wood beams. The cube – all two tons of it – glided on the rollers in spurts.

Watching this whole affair is Army Sgt. 1st Class Lee Given, a trainer with the Joint Interagency Training and Education Center.

Given recently trained another HRF team in Oregon. Components of the HRF have trained for similar missions in recent years, and aiding civil authorities, as the HRF does, is part of the National Guard’s traditional role.

The team Givens watches is composed of both Soldiers and Airmen. Air Force Master Sgt. Hector Caro, member of the 105th Airlift Wing, is responsible for triage with this Search and Extraction Team.

“It’s good for us to get together and see how each other works,” Caro said, who would evaluate the wounded in a real-life disaster.

The team moved the two-ton cube through a narrow concrete tunnel, and Army Pfc. Neseer Carter, breathed a sigh of relief as the cube completed the 75-foot course.

But the exercise is not over. Given smiles and makes a bet. He places a wooden beam vertically on top of the cube. Lower the cube, currently on wooden support beams, to the ground, he said, and if this beam doesn’t fall, he’ll do pushups.

The team takes the bet.

“Everybody’s got to lift together,” said Army Sgt. John Grace, member of the 1156th Engineer Company. “All we’re doing is taking the weight off the rollers. We’re going to lift this thing down soft and gentle.”

At very last second, just as the cube came to rest upon the ground, the wooden beam perched on top of the cube wobbles and falls to the ground.

The team groaned - they lost bet, now they have to do pushups.

Givens laughed and joined in. The cube exercise is mostly for team building and helping Soldiers think outside the box, the instructor said, but the lessons from this will help the team gain the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from natural disasters or terrorist-related incidents.

“That’s our goal,” Givens says, “to be able to go into an operation and execute the mission.”

The team rose from their pushups. The training has just begun.

“You got to keep your troops motivated,” Martinez says. “You never know when you have to use the skills here in the real world.”