116th Medical Group partners with civil authorities, Army for Vigilant Guard exercise

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Julie Parker
  • 116th Air Control Wing
Airmen from the 116th Medical Group's highly-trained emergency response team joined approximately 2,000 military and civilian emergency responders in Vigilant Guard, a multi-agency emergency preparedness exercise in South Carolina, March 7-8.

The members of the Georgia National Guard unit worked side-by-side with civilian first responders to respond to various real-to-life scenarios over the weekend.

"The purpose of the exercise was to test the Homeland Response Force mission, which is to treat patients in a disaster," said Master Sgt. Victor Conner, 116th MDG first sergeant.  "We are a chemical, biological, radiological/nuclear and explosive enhanced response force package or CERFP."

"In this scenario, a tornado came through and knocked down a school, and the concerns were asbestos within the school," he said.

The search and extraction team removed victims from the rubble, while decontamination team worked to ensure civilian and military personnel exposed to asbestos were properly sprayed down to keep contamination confined to the disaster zone, allowing medical teams to treat casualties in a clean environment.

The last stop for the victims in the CERFP process was the medical team where they were assessed and treated injuries.
According to Conner, this year's exercise brought unique challenges with an added twist to add more realism to the scenarios.

"Ordinarily, a CERFP footprint is the size of a football field and consists of three or four tents set up for search and extraction, triage and contamination," said Conner.   "For this scenario, we only had enough space to set up two tents."

Even though the working space was minimized, the team was required to provide the same level of care to the simulated patients.

"It gave us the chance to test our capabilities and develop best practices from them," said Conner.

The CERFP team processed through the operational phases of the scenario, triaging and treating 300 patients throughout the course of the exercise.

"Vigilant Guard was a great training opportunity for younger personnel in the unit," said Conner. "It allows them to see how the mission comes together and understand how their individual piece of the puzzle fits into the bigger picture."

Staff Sgt. Asia Hollingsworth, 116th MDG medical technician, had the opportunity to work in the command and control center for the first time during the exercise. 

"I usually work in the medical control center within the footprint and channel up information to the command and control center," she said. "Working in the C2, I was with representatives from all the different agencies participating in the exercise, and it was a chance for me to see how they all work together."

The exercise is also an opportunity for developing best practices and for the teams to share their perspectives on key strengths and areas for improvement.

"The feedback we received was all positive," said Conner.  "The civil authorities and Army personnel who we worked with were impressed with the seasoning and competency of our people."

Georgia was one of the first states to receive the CERFP mission and the 116th MDG has been recognized in past Homeland Response Force exercises as one of the nation's top performers.