by Tech. Sgt. Sara Robinson
132 Fighter Wing
6/2/2013 - Camp Ashland, Nebraska -- Severe
weather is on the forefront of all of our minds as we see the
destruction caused by tornados in recent weeks. However, the Iowa Air
National Guard is always prepared to fulfill their role in disaster
relief. They recently trained with members of the Nebraska Air and Army
National Guard to practice their search, recovery and decontamination
These guardsmen are all members of a group called the Chemical,
Biological, Radiological/Nuclear and Explosive Enhanced Response Force
Package (CERF-P). Their job is to provide immediate response capability
to the Governor, searching an incident site, including damaged
buildings; rescuing any casualties, decontaminating them, and performing
medical triage and initial treatment to stabilize them for transport to
a medical facility (this includes extracting anyone trapped in the
A vital element of that package is the 132 Fighter Wing's contribution
as the Fatality Search and Recovery Team (FSRT). These services Airmen
provide a valuable resource by collecting human remains in a respectful
and dignified manner. They remove the fatalities from a contaminated
area to a place where they can be properly cared for.
"The most important part of our job is knowing that we are getting the
deceased back to their living relatives to help provide closure to
anyone who may have experienced a loss in one of these situations," say
Staff Sgt. Brandon King, FSRT member.
Fatality recovery is not a pretty job, it's not a happy job, but someone
has to do it. Not just anyone can do it either. Individuals need to
feel comfortable in their protective gear and able to move in confined
spaces. They need to be physically fit and able to lift 200 pound
mannequins in the 90 degree heat. Those are only the physical
requirements. The mental toll can be much greater on a person.
"The hardest part of being part of the FSRT would be the need to recover
the remains of children. They are so young and defenseless. It makes it
worthwhile though being able to give the family their child so they can
have a proper burial," says Tech. Sgt. Branden Hassett, FSRT team
The FSRT team does a job that is not very popular but a vital role
following any catastrophic event. They need to function in unfavorable
conditions and deal with unthinkable sights, sounds and smells. A lesson
that we learned after events like Katrina when remains where left in
the view of citizens for days on end. This caused serious issues both
mentally and on a public health standpoint.
"That is where we play a key role is during that initial shock. Because
the faster you go into an environment to handle what has happened the
better and easier the recovery is. The quicker people can hopefully go
back to their normal lives. That's what we are here to do," explains
Maj. Tim Pegg, FSRT OIC.
Some members of the team have experience dealing with the collection of
remains. Hassett volunteered for the team after an experience overseas
with a downed pilot. He was working mortuary affairs at the time and saw
firsthand benefits of his mission. He said it makes the difficulty of
collecting worthwhile to know that the pilot would be returned to his
wife for a proper burial.
"I volunteered to be a part of the FSRT because they were having a hard
time finding people. It's a hard job. I knew from my time overseas that
this is something that I can mentally handle and not everyone can,"
Staff Sgt. Ryan King also has experience from his time overseas. His
advice is to be as proficient as possible with all of the things that
you can learn ahead of time because when you are faced with a real world
casualty you never know what will happen.
"You can train with the equipment and get used to the Hazmat suits and
know what you are going to do as far as operating procedures but until
you have actually been down range and dealt with a situation like this,
you really don't know how you are going to react," explains King.
Realism is the key to any training and this scenario based exercise is
not different. Without being able to provide the real world situation to
train in, trainers come as close as they can. They enlist the help of
local actors and lots of fake blood. Their version of a tornado ravaged
Omaha zoo is complete with collapsed buildings and confused citizens
looking for loved ones. All of the buildings are fake and all of the
people's injuries are makeup, but the teamwork needed to accomplish this
mission is very real.
"Our team has been together for quite a while so they are an outstanding
team. Some of the best people that we have in services are out here
today. We have a highly motivated, highly technical team and they will
accomplish the mission extremely well. I attribute that success to both
the joint training and the individual training that we are able to
accomplish throughout the exercise," says Pegg.
Decontamination plays a major part of what the team practices. Since the
'hot zone' is filled with a potential deadly gas, the team needs to
know how to properly clean themselves of any contaminates. Everyone
helps each other through the spraying and scrubbing of the suits and
gear before they are cleared from the area.
The team has training on Hazardous Material procedures, different
chemicals and handling remains. Their protective suites play a vital
role in the exercise and being able to do their job. Even with all of
this specialized and costly gear, Pegg says that they could not do the
mission without his most important asset... his team of highly motivated
"I think one of the most important things we have out here is our
people. Without the people being motivated, trained and qualified to do
their job, it just can't be done. Having these volunteers step up, take
time off of their full time job time after time to show up for training
has really contributed to a successful mission," says Pegg.
So until they are needed in a real world situation. The 132nd Fighter
Wing's FSRT will continue training and being ready at a moment's notice
in hopes that they will never be called up with the bad news that
somewhere their services are needed.