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Minnesota National Guard
2013 Vibrant Response Exercise Builds Competent Ready Force

Minnesota National Guard Nine members of the 148th Duluth Fighter Wing participated in the Vibrant Response Exercise at the Muscatatuk Urban Training Center (MUTC), in Indiana, to train for a real-world response to a catastrophic event Aug 10-14, 2013Tucked away beyond the cornfields of Muscatatuck; the training complex spans out over 1,000 acres and is set up like a small town 
"The site itself looked like a zombie apocalypse and had endless possibilities for mass casualty/fatality exercises," explained Staff Sgt Kayla Goorhouse, from the 148th Fighter Wing

"We were able to train in a realistic disaster environment and gain invaluable skills so we can deploy as needed," added Master Sgt Melanie Sloan, Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of the Duluth team  The 148th members are part of the wing's Fatality Search and Recovery Team (FSRT) that falls under the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosives (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERF-P) For this exercise the team was attached to Indiana's 181st Intelligence Wing's FSRT team, who are part of the 19th CERF-P

"In a real-world incident there is a good possibility that FSRT teams will join together For this exercise the Minnesota team merged seamlessly with the Indiana team and everyone acted as one recovery group," noted Capt Randi Brown, officer in charge of the two teams She also served as observer/controller for the event so her main duty was to watch the teams closely, provide input and evaluate their performance 

The overarching mission of the Vibrant Response Exercise is to save lives and mitigate suffering, but the reality is that fatalities still occur in real-world situations Therefore, within the Joint Area of Operation, Fatality Search and Recovery operations are now conducted concurrently whenever needed  Brad Wittlinger, FSRT Program Manager at the National Guard Bureau accounted that, "The FSRT program is set apart because of their capability to perform in a CBRNE environment This is a niche and capability where the civilian sector is limited Hurricane Katrina played role in the development of FSRT The Department of Health and Human Services decided that the general public should not have to see a news anchor with a body splayed out in the background That decision was a major springboard to developing teams that could go in and recover fatalities"  There are now twenty-seven FSRT teams in the country The FSRT's main focus is the removal of human remains as quickly and efficiently as possible while adhering to specific processes and procedures

"It is also so important for all human remains to be treated with dignity, reverence and respect, and our team is diligently training to ensure that this happens," Sloan commented "While the other areas are focused on the living, fatality recovery is still highly critical and it is an added mission that could not otherwise be done," said Lt. Col. Kelly Hammond, who commands more than 150 troops from the 19th CERF-P  

"Things are getting much better CERF-P is still struggling to find how FSRT fits in because it is still new and fitting into a complicated environment," Brown assessed 

The Vibrant Response Exercise is US Northern Command-directed and USNORTHCOM Joint Forces Land Component Command executed the CBRNE Consequence Management collective exercise event focused on Defense Support to Civil Authorities 

"This training is beneficial because it helps support local communities while working with local authorities to prepare for different types of disasters In this exercise, for example, a ten-ton nuclear bomb went off That is important to consider for this area because Indiana has a large chemical company within our border," Hammond explained

"By participating in Vibrant Response we were able to develop a real understanding for the multi-agency coordination that happens at disaster scenes that we aren't able to get by home station training alone I really think that this is what will help us to become one of the most well-trained FSRTs in the country," expressed Sloan The incident commander's intent was to successfully deploy in response to domestic operations and to successfully operate in the Incident Command System by providing search and rescue, mass casualty, decontamination and FSRT support The operation consisted of various phases to include alert and assembly, deployment, set up, response and post incident redeployment

The troops called to support the mission occupied space based at Forward Operating Base Pather and convoyed daily to the catastrophe site Teams deployed with their personal equipment, which has essential survival gear needed to support operations Recently, the procurement of all items for the FSRT operational and sustainment equipment packages was completed for all 27 teams

"The FSRT element provides additional assets and abilities to go into the hot zone," added Hammond 
There is always room for improvement "The Indiana team is still fine tuning the new equipment," said Brown "Our overall integration with the decontamination element and how we support the mission will continue to be spelled out from the top down" 

"Duringthe exercise we are updated on changes that may have been made to operation standards and it allows for on-the-spot training from the subject matter experts who are constantly involved in exercises," Goorhouse explained

Upon arriving at the site the team begins to set up tents and equipment which is referred to as establishing the footprintThe team dealt with fallen debris, hillsides and limited spaces   Brown explains, "This training has been unique because each day we had to set up in different locations and venues which provided the teams with new experiences and situations to navigate"

Goorhouse explained, "The Indiana exercise allowed us to work in an environment that challenged us, not only with different geographical sites each day, but also with the temperature changes we typically do not experience so far north
Going to these exercises enables our team to train new members, find our weak areas to correct them, and build a stronger base of knowledge for our teams As a team we also rotate our roles to help make our teams highly effective, as well as practice our radio communication which can be difficult when members are in the suits"

The three-day training moves at a crawl, walk, and run pace meaning that it ramps up significantly more each day Emphasis is always placed on safety while conducting operations  Medical checks are standard operating procedure to monitor the health of the recovery teams Teams work an average of twelve hours each day Work/rest cycles are implemented as well as protective measures for hot and cold zones

Goorhouse pointed out that, "Our team was able to go through the decontamination (DECON) process and our new members were taught the correct steps by the DECON teams present This opportunity proved as critical training for our new personnel and also for new members of the DECON teams"

"The 148th Fighter Wing FSRT team will be participating in an upcoming exercise evaluation this coming June that will officially qualify them to be able to quickly respond and recover fatalities in a CBRNE environment We have members attending a "train the trainer" class at Fort Indiantown Gap, PA so that we can further enhance our skill set and come back to home station and train our members each drill weekend leading up to our evaluation to ensure that we can achieve this qualification We will be combining this training with the many skills that we gained from participating in Vibrant Response 13 at the Muscatatuk Urban Training Center in Indiana," summarized Sloan

14 Aug, 2013
Story and photos by Staff Sgt Jennifer Rechtfertig
Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs

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