Friday, November 08, 2013

Laughlin chaplain visits White House for Veterans Day

by Senior Airman Nathan Maysonet
47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

11/8/2013 - LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas  -- A Laughlin chaplain was chosen by his peers to attend the White House breakfast Nov. 11, hosted annually by the president for members of the Veterans Day Committee.

Chaplain (Maj.) Andrew McIntosh, 47th Flying Training Wing chaplain, was asked by the Military Chaplains Association to attend the presidential breakfast as their representative at the event.

"As our representative, Chaplain McIntosh will join with other leaders at the White House to represent our veterans to the highest members of our government and then be transported to Arlington National Cemetery where he will attend the national wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns," said Lyman Smith, MCA deputy director. "The MCA is grateful for Chaplain McIntosh's service and the significant role he plays in representing the military chaplaincy at the national level."

McIntosh is an executive committee member for the MCA, which is an organization that is chartered by congress to be a voice for military chaplains. McIntosh's work with the MCA included supporting military chaplains transitioning from military service back into civilian congregations and veteran's affairs.

He will attend the event with representatives from other service organizations that join with the Department of Veterans Affairs each year to support the national observance of Veterans Day.

"It is an honor and a surprise to be asked to be a part of this event," said McIntosh. "This is my second year involved in the event and it's humbling to represent an organization dedicated to military chaplains that allows us to give so much back to our veterans."

Last year, McIntosh attended the national Veterans Day Ceremony as a flag bearer for the MCA at Arlington Ceremony. This year, McIntosh will attend his final MCA executive committee meeting in Washington D.C. during Veterans Day weekend and was asked by the organization if he would like to attend the breakfast this year. McIntosh accepted the honor wholeheartedly.

"I feel this is a great chance to further honor and serve our veterans," said McIntosh. "My first duty as a military chaplain was to attend the funeral of a veteran that had been on the deck of the U.S.S. Arizona during the attack at Pearl Harbor, so going to Washington to celebrate our veterans is very personal and important to me."

For McIntosh, seeing the president and both military and government leaders at the
breakfast is thrilling, but it is the veterans he will meet there that makes the trip worth it.

"Seeing the various generations of veterans in that setting and to stand amongst them will be amazing," said McIntosh. "The stories and histories our veterans have written and the ones our service members are still writing is powerful. I know the vets who have served us and who we know serve are proud of us."

Hazardous materials, mass casualties and winter storm all in a day’s work for Vigilant Guard participants

By Sgt. Angela Parady
121st Public Affairs Detachment
Click photo for screen-resolution image
BRUNSWICK, Maine (11/8/13) - A major winter ice storm bringing nearly three feet of snow and frigid temperatures leaves hundreds of thousands without power. An ice arena collapses with an unknown number of people inside; later that night there is a suspected terrorist attack at a major government facility. A suspected anthrax lab has been reported, and hazardous material has leaked on a ship coming into Portland International Marina.

This culmination of events was only an exercise to test the preparedness of emergency management systems in Maine, but it could happen. To be better prepared, emergency aid agencies and National Guard soldiers from seven states, and first responders participated in a Vigilant Guard exercise in Maine Nov. 5-8.

Every year, NGB and the U.S. Northern Command pick four locations to host the exercise. Each location is in a different FEMA region, so the likelihood of a state being able to host the event more than once is rare. The goal of the program is to enhance both National Guard and state emergency preparedness.

All of the participants work together to assess storm damage, identify hazmat threats, decontamination, search and rescue, patient extraction, triage, and other emergency-response measures. Working side by side and being able to recognize one another helps develop relationships before they are in the emergency situation.

Lt. Col. Diane Dunn, a Maine Army National Guard Soldier who works for Joint Force Headquarters, said that the exercise has met every goal they set out to accomplish, primarily networking and developing resources.

"Every single time you get military partners working side by side with civilians they establish relationships, and that is probably the most important thing," said Dunn.

"Understanding who the leaders are, and what tasks belong to whom, so when you have to support someone, you already know their strengths and weaknesses and where you fit into that picture. Those experiences make this exercise more valuable."

During the last 13 months, Dunn has worked very closely with Maine Emergency Management Agency Exercise Officer Jeremy Damren. They worked directly with NGB and NORTHCOMM to plan the event. He agreed that communication is essential to developing working relationships.

"Many of our responders here would be the same people responding to our neighboring states as well," said Damren. "So now, we recognize these faces and can hopefully work a bit closer than had we just shown up. I think anytime you exchange business cards before an emergency its always better than doing it during the emergency."

Although Maine has not had anything to this scale happen yet, it could happen. Emergency situations in New England, such as Hurricane Irene, or Hurricane Sandy that required a multistate response, have already happened, and this just helps train everyone to be better equipped.

Dunn, a native of Newburg, said this training is the opportunity of a lifetime for the National Guard.
"It gives us the opportunity to not only understand the resources and capabilities the civilians have, but also our role," she said. "How we support our civilians, and where we would fit into our communities and to make sure our families and our community members are safe. Most importantly, that can help response efforts like this."

When a disaster strikes, trained, local emergency personnel respond first. When the first responders have expended their resources, the county comes in to assist. In a situation like Vigilant Guard, with multiple competing priorities, whether it is sheltering people, clearing roads, or just public safety in general, sometimes they too run out of resources.

That's when MEMA enters the picture. It has a designated planning staff that is responsible for responding to emergencies. They can look at all the resources state wide and see where things can be shared. After the state exceeds all of its resources, it requests National Guard assistance, and mutual aid partners in neighboring states, and federal agencies.

The military doesn't step in and take over the situation. They are there to help aid and assist the first responders and other agencies already in place, said Damren, who lives in Belgrade.

"The adjutant general, who manages both us and the Maine National Guard, has said from the very beginning, that all disasters start local. So this military takeover would never happen. What would happen is we would work together."

Working side by side, military and civilian responders extract, decontaminate and treat the victims at the collapsed building. Meanwhile, other crews have been called in to respond to nearly 20 other emergency events throughout the state, from cybersecurity breaches, to a contaminated ship coming into Portland. It took nearly 1500 National Guard soldiers, hundreds of civilian medical and first responders and international partners working together to help mitigate the disaster.

Because events this extreme are not common in New England, this was an opportunity to demonstrate the National Guard and civilian agencies abilities to respond when called, and to train military soldiers for their response, said Dunn.

"It gave us the opportunity to exercise our main job; to defend our state and to respond in time of crisis," she continued. "It is not something we do all the time, so its important that we dust off those plans and are familiar with what our tasks are and how we need to continue to train and prepare so we can meet the call when it comes in."

Similarly, Damren was very happy with the overall exercise.

"Being able to strengthen the military and civilian relationship and reflect that we do all work together," he said. "It doesn't matter what uniform you wear, we are all here to do a job, so let's just get to work, make people safe, and save lives."