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Oregon Guardsmen participate in Emergency Preparedness Exercise

Image of a Guardsmen training with a patient.

Guardsmen from the Oregon Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package conduct mass casualty decontamination operations in an emergency preparedness exercise at Camp Rilea, Oregon. It was part of an inspection conducted by the Joint Interagency Training and Education Center every two years to measure the team’s ability to respond to a disaster. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Sean Campbell)

WARRENTON, Ore. -- Following a monumental season of wildfires, ice storms and the pandemic over the past year, emergency preparedness has become less of an afterthought and more of a necessary priority to Oregonians in particular.

Members of the Oregon National Guard have served on the fire lines during the wildfires of 2020 and are currently spread out across the state to serve the public at mass vaccination sites.

“Many of our members, being citizen-soldiers, come from many of the medical facilities around Oregon and so have been deeply impacted by COVID and taking care of COVID patients,” said Lt. Col. Torree McGowan, Medical Element Commander of the Oregon CERFP. “When the Governor asked us to stand up mass vaccine sites, two-thirds of my unit volunteered to go and administer shots.”

Hundreds of Guardsmen gathered the week of June 13, 2021 at Camp Rilea, Oregon, on the North Coast, to step up to train during a multi-day emergency preparedness exercise to sharpen their skills in case another large-scale disaster impacts Oregonians or their neighbors.

Many participants have civilian careers which connect to their emergency-specialized service, like emergency room physicians, EMTs, firefighters, police officers and pilots. Other members are stay at home parents, marketing professionals and telecom specialists.

One common thread is a heart of service.

“It’s been a tremendous opportunity to impact the health and safety of our community, because that’s what we do as Guardsmen, that’s why we put on this uniform,” said McGowan.

Setting up for emergency operations, exercise or not, is a time-sensitive affair, a logistics puzzle with dozens of vehicles and trailers filled with specialized emergency aid equipment all required to be in place within hours of a disaster. In the first 20 minutes, dozens of vehicles assembled on base in a thoughtful pattern and got to work.

Service members donned their protective HAZMAT suits pulled out of bright red duffle bags, and went through technical decontamination procedures with instruments designed to detect harmful particles. Role-players from the community simulated various maladies to test the expertise of the emergency professionals.

Both Air and Army National Guardsmen worked together to set up their respective equipment modules like tents, tarps, buckets, caution tape, litters, generators, communications equipment and more. After setup was complete, guardsmen started doing triage, search and extraction, decontamination and providing simulated medical care within the glowing lights of a temporary, purpose-driven and mobile mini-city.

The group is called the 102nd Oregon Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and Explosive Defense Enhanced Response Force Package and is a part of the Homeland Response Force, established by the Department of Defense. The CERFP is designed to deploy within 6 hours of notification using a phased deployment. They have the ability to integrate with first responder teams, as an augmentation, or can operate in a standalone capacity.

According to the National Guard Bureau, the 102nd CERFP provides incident response at the direction of the Oregon State Governor. Their mission? To save lives and mitigate human suffering during an emergency.

“This training allows you to get in a headspace where you can think about the decisions you’re going to have to make and the pace at which you’ll make them to ensure you’re prepared mentally and physically to take on the work and get a victim out safely,” said Spc. Margaret Ward, combat engineer for the CERFP.

A CERFP is composed of drilling soldiers and airmen from existing National Guard units or organizations. Training is part of a certification and evaluation process to ensure members are ready to respond at a moment’s notice.

The specialized unit has medical-triage, mass-decontamination, combat-security, and specialized search-and-rescue capabilities.

“We know we have a mission that requires a lot of coordination, a lot of moving parts, so it’s been nice learning from and getting to know the other branches,” said Ward.

In addition to spanning multiple services, CERFPs are capable of self-deployment by ground transportation if a disaster happens nearby, or air-transportable by C-130 or larger aircraft if far away. CERFP equipment can also be transported by rail or watercraft if the situation requires a more specialized approach.

As the exercise evaluation wrapped up, specialized teams presented the group with a disaster scenario. With stopwatches in hand, the teams tested the group’s ability to respond to simulated disasters in real-time.

“We come from our communities, we’re drawn from our communities, we represent our communities and we want to be there for our communities on their darkest day,” said Lt. Col. Evan D. Hessel, 102nd CERFP Commander.

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