Back to business for Det 1

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Orlando Corpuz
  • 154th Wing Public Affairs

Medical specialists from the 154th Medical Group Detachment 1, took their expertise on the road to participate in a California disaster response exercise April 16-18.

Held in Concord, Calif., primarily on the grounds of a U.S. Navy military installation, exercise Sentinel Response tested the skills of the medical team reacting to a simulated radiological explosion in which mass casualties were sustained.

The three-day exercise stress-tested the coordination efforts between California State, Bay Area County, and National Guard elements responding to scenarios in which a wide array of responses was required. Exercise participants were required to respond to everything from hazmat containment, rescue operations, and medical triage and treatment.

For the 154th Medical Group, Detachment 1, in a year where COVID-19 hampered or shut-down many of the training exercises it would have normally participated in, Sentinel Response represented a ‘getting-back-to-business’ of sorts to the mission sets and capabilities it had originally been designed for.

“From a training standpoint, the pandemic threw our normal training ops and routines for a loop,” said Lt. Col. James Faumuina, 154th Medical Group Detachment 1 commander. “The pandemic didn’t allow for many of the didactics and field training events we would have normally been participating in a normal year. Add to that, many of our Airmen were involved with our state’s COVID-19 response efforts. So what you really had was a situation where it was challenging to train for our normal mission, and that’s what Sentinel Response gave us.”

The exercise was executed as parts of the nation were slowly easing back on some of the pandemic mitigation efforts that had become routine for many. Still, COVID-19 was on the minds of exercise planners and participants and strict pandemic guidelines were followed.

“Safety was first and foremost,” said Faumuina. “We’re not completely out of the pandemic shadow so many of those pandemic mitigation efforts were still followed. Many times our unit was in generally outdoor areas. And for those scenarios which required a little tighter physical response, masks were still the norm.”

The navy grounds which the exercise was conducted at, with its large areas and variety and number of structures allowed exercise planners to concoct challenging yet realistic scenarios. Vehicle collision rescue, hazmat threat reaction, confined space rescue, breach and stabilization, decontamination, and medical treatment were some of the challenges first responders faced.

Integration was a priority for the Hawaii Airmen as the exercise’s military presence involved counterparts from the California Air National Guard’s 144th Medical Detachment 1 and a heavy dose of California Army National Guard soldiers.

“In large and complex dom-ops disaster response, you are going to have a multitude of personnel coming together from a multitude of organizations and jurisdictions and you’re going to have to merge that effort very quickly,” Faumuina said. “The military effort such our unit and our counterparts from the 144th can come in and supplement that civilian response, either with a plus-up in effort or to contributie our capabilities that may not necessarily be available to incident command.”

According to Faumuina, integration or lack-there-of can make or break disaster response.

“That complexity is going to require an organized and coordinated effort,” Faumuina said. “You’ll see civilian incident command coordinating the efforts of county, state, and federal response outfits all coming together. Integration will be key, and I’m not just talking integration amongst the military element, we’re talking integration up and down the chain of response. That integration is not easy and that’s why exercises such as these are important.”

While the main body of Det 1 was training in California, an eight hour drive away, a team of Hawaii ANG medical experts were completing annual required certification and training in Nevada.

“This really was a comprehensive effort by our medical Airmen,” Faumuina said. “Many of our team members were able to stretch out those response muscles in the field, and a segment of our folks were able to finish didactics and retain their certifications.”