By Army Staff Sgt. Keith Anderson
U.S. Army North
MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. (8/1/12) - Search and Extraction team members cleared away rubble, pulled survivors to safety and stabilized a building to breach and extract those trapped inside July 27 as part of a major incident exercise.
The search and extraction team, part of the Ohio National Guard’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Enhanced Response Force Package, performed the critical lifesaving and life-sustaining mission a day after a simulated 10-kiloton nuclear device detonated in a major Midwestern city as part of Vibrant Response 13 - an exercise conducted by U.S. Northern Command and led by U.S. Army North.
The Marine Corps’ Chemical, Biological Incident Response Force, II Marine Expeditionary Unit, headquartered in Indian Head, Md., also assisted in the mission, searching for survivors in the rubble and in a nearby trailer park.
Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Craig led search and extraction team members to the partially collapsed building and adjacent rubble pile.
“As a hot-zone noncommissioned officer, I took two squads in to conduct a recon of the rubble pile and extract the injured,” Craig said. “My job is to make sure team members are conducting safe operations, coordinating objectives and extracting victims.”
Search and extraction missions can be dangerous.
“You’re going into confined spaces and unstable buildings,” said Army 2nd Lt. Chris Brandt, search and extraction officer-in-charge. “Our mission is to save lives without endangering additional lives. When you’re moving 1,000-pound slabs of concrete, people can get hurt.”
Unlike normal engineer units, search and extraction teams don’t have heavy equipment like bull-dozers to help in the process.
“You don’t use heavy equipment around victims,” Brandt said. “We use pry bars and shoring equipment. We’re light, but we’re capable of doing pretty much everything.”
The search and extraction team uses many types of specialized and routine equipment, including jackhammers, electric saws, concrete band saws, SnakeEye flexible cameras, electric hot sticks to detect electricity, air and gas monitors to detect broken gas lines, thermal imagers and Delsar Life Detectors.
The mission is rewarding, said Army Sgt. Jezrael Holt.
“The reason I do this is to help out people caught in horrible situations,” Holt said.
For members of the Marine Corps CBIRF, many of whom served in recovery operations in Japan after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the training at Vibrant Response is important.
“This is one of the only places we can rehearse extracting and providing care for large numbers of civilians with live role-players, and because of the unique domestic scenario, rehearse coordination with multiple civilian and federal agencies,” said Marine Corps Sgt. Jonathan Betschart, recon team leader, Incident Response Force B, CBIRF.
“After the tsunami, we were staged in Yakota Air Base; and before we began assisting the people of Japan, there were a lot of bilateral coordination’s with the government to see what we could do in their environment, and what we could provide.”
For one role-player “rescued” by the Marine team, the experience led to a new purpose.
“We were out there in the trailer hollering for help, and the team came out quickly and helped us out,” said Cody Kissick. “I want to join the Marines now.”
The joint Army National Guard/Marine Corps mission was unique.
“It was the first time the CBIRF and the CERFP had combined operations,” said Duane Bowen, Exercise Control Forward chief of operations, U.S. Army North. “We’ve identified some coordination issues and had the chance to improve so definitely a very beneficial operation.”