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116th Medical Group prepares to meet disaster when it strikes

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Viviana Grisales, left, and Airman 1st Class Jasmine Mitchell, medical technicians with the 116th Medical Group, Georgia Air National Guard, discuss patient injuries and triage status with a group of Soldiers at the hot-zone triage point during the Vigilant Guard 2013 exercise at Camp Blanding, Fla., May 21, 2013. The Medical Group from the 116th Air Control Wing, out of Robins Air ForceBase, Ga., is a key component of the 78th Homeland Response Force set up to respond to disasters in the Southeast U.S. region. During the exercise, Guardsmen responded to various scenarios such as a plane crash, train derailment, hurricane, and an explosion at a chemical plant. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Roger Parsons/Released)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Viviana Grisales, left, and Airman 1st Class Jasmine Mitchell, medical technicians with the 116th Medical Group, Georgia Air National Guard, discuss patient injuries and triage status with a group of Soldiers at the hot-zone triage point during the Vigilant Guard 2013 exercise at Camp Blanding, Fla., May 21, 2013. The Medical Group from the 116th Air Control Wing, out of Robins Air ForceBase, Ga., is a key component of the 78th Homeland Response Force set up to respond to disasters in the Southeast U.S. region. During the exercise, Guardsmen responded to various scenarios such as a plane crash, train derailment, hurricane, and an explosion at a chemical plant. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Roger Parsons/Released)

CAMP BLANDING, Fla. -- Georgia Air National Guard's 116th Medical Group from Robins Air Force Base, Ga., spent the week in Camp Blanding, Fla., training to respond to various man-made and natural disasters like the bombings in Boston and the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma during the annual Vigilant Guard 2013 exercise.

Joining more than 2,100 state, local, and federal personnel, the Guardsmen worked side by side with civilian first responders to respond to various real-to-life scenarios throughout the week.

"This training offers invaluable experience because anything could happen anywhere like we seen in the Boston bombings," said 2nd Lt. Casey Patton, a nurse with the 116th MDG. "We could be called at any time to respond to something like that here in the southeast so we need to be ready at all times."

As Patton spoke, a search and extraction team shored up a vehicle on a rubble pile at a simulated site where a plane had crashed into a building. The team ensured everything was secure so the nurse could go in and provide care to survivors.

This year's exercise brought unique challenges with an added twist to add more realism to the scenarios. The medical personnel worked from a different from a different location each day and responded to multiple scenarios back to back.

"Vigilant Guard 2013 allowed us to try different configurations, staffing and processes to determine what would work best for real world scenarios," said Col. Muriel Herman, 116th MDG commander. "We were able to try 10-15 different processes during this exercise and take those that worked and develop best practices from them."

Throughout the week, the Guardsmen responded to a fabricated plane crash, train derailment, chemical plant explosion, and hurricanes. In all, they treated more than 1,000 patients with simulated injuries ranging from burns, broken bones, amputations, head injuries, and other life threatening conditions.

"This exercise gave us the opportunity to train with the equipment we would actually be working with if we get the call and to work as part of a Joint Task Force," said Senior Master Sgt. Katherine Haines, chief medical technician for the 116th MDG.

An added change to the Joint Task Force this year included Active Duty Army Combat Medics from Fort Bragg, N.C. who embedded with the combined 116th and 165th Medical Groups from the Georgia Guard.

The 116th MDG, recognized in past Homeland Response Force exercises as one of the nation's top performers, was able to share valuable best practices and training with the Army Combat Medics.

After a week in the trenches meeting every challenge head on, the medical professionals from the 116th Air Control Wing were praised by the Joint Task Force Commander, Brig. Gen. Richard Gallant, noting the extensive knowledge, exceptional skills, and professionalism they brought to the exercise.