Exercise prepares emergency forces for domestic disaster

Exercise prepares emergency forces for domestic disaster

Air Force Reservists from Texas and South Carolina traveled to Wisconsin in August to participate in Operation Heartland Defense, an exercise designed to help prepare civilian and military emergency forces to respond to domestic disasters.

In addition to Airmen, the exercise also included Soldiers from the Army Reserve and Wisconsin Army National Guard.

“The exercise provided an excellent opportunity for Air Force Reserve members from different units to come together for valuable training in an environment that may be exactly what we’ll face in real life,” said Air Force Maj. Sue Drabing, exercise director. Major Drabing is assigned to Air Mobility Command’s Tactical Airlift Control Center at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

The exercise began several days before the military forces arrived. A simulated anthrax event of unknown origin was staged in the West Salem, Wis., area. Local emergency personnel were dispatched to mount a first response to the situation.

Overwhelmed by the severity of the event, local authorities requested federal assistance, which included a response from reserve forces.

About 200 Soldiers from the Army Reserve’s 452nd Combat Support Hospital, Milwaukee, Wis., and Army National Guard’s 832nd Medical Company (Air Ambulance), West Bend, Wis., deployed to La Crosse Airport to set up and staff a 44-bed tent hospital. The hospital, which included an operating room, X-ray facilities, intensive and intermediate care facilities, and a communications center, provided a place where Army nurses, doctors and technicians could provide care for an increasing number of simulated anthrax victims.

The exercise offered members of the 452nd their first opportunity to work in a joint environment with civilians, according to Army Maj. Loren Klemp, medical operations officer for the exercise.

While the Army Reservists and National Guardsmen were dealing with victims of the anthrax incident, another element was added to the exercise. A train carrying toxic ammonia derailed, releasing the deadly gas into the air. That’s when the Air Force Reserve got involved.

Twenty-three people from the 433rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Lackland AFB, Texas, and the 315th AES and 300th Airlift Squadron, Charleston AFB, S.C., responded to simulate transporting patients, via a Charleston C-17, to a medical facility capable of treating illnesses or conditions requiring specialized care.

“From an Air Force perspective, I’d say we met all our objectives,” said Lt. Col. Wayne Olson, 433rd AES director of operations. “Our aircrews got the opportunity to work in a joint environment, and some were able to get certified (for aeromedical evacuation) on the C-17.”

(Information for this article provided by Senior Airman Jonathan Simmons of the 433rd Airlift Wing public affairs office at Lackland AFB.)

COPYRIGHT 2004 Air Force Reserves

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group