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Serving the homeland when tragedy strikes: New York National Guard sharpens disaster readiness skills during Homeland Response Force exercise



CAMP SMITH TRAINING SITE, New York –Soldiers from the New York National Guard’s 42nd Infantry Division came together at Camp Smith Training Site near Peekskill, April 15 to 19 to hone their command and control capabilities as the Region II Homeland Response Force or HRF.

The exercise tested the citizen Soldiers’ ability to manage a simulated incident involving the detonation of an improvised nuclear device.

“It’s essential for us as an Army, especially in the New York National Guard, to make sure we are ready to be called upon in both a combat environment as well support our governor and our elected officials in a (defense support to civil authorities) role,” said Brig. Gen. Christopher R. Cronin, the commander of the 2nd HRF. “And the HRF exercises that role for us, where we get together to ensure we have the capability and capacity to assist our local authorities in the event there’s a disaster, whether it’s a natural disaster or a CBRN event.”

When directed by proper authority and upon consent of the governor, the HRF’s mission is to support the state response through casualty assistance, search and extraction, decontamination, and medical triage in order to save lives and mitigate human suffering.

Throughout the week, the HRF team was hit with various scenarios as they managed the actions of simulated and real-life civil support teams (CST) and other National Guard specialists responding to the radioactive-affected area. Both real-world and simulated teams conducted search and extraction, decontamination, and other activities while supporting first responders and civil authorities.

The exercise ensured “our staff (is) ready to support our downrange units that will be deployed forward in support of the civil authorities,” Cronin said of the HRF command and control team. “In the Army, we’re continuously learning, where you train, you test, you evaluate, you reassess, and then you train again.”

In addition to managing the response, personnel, and equipment, the HRF also had to troubleshoot additional unique problems, such as a simulated vehicle accident requiring the hospitalization of National Guard Soldiers and a lack of personnel to cover affected areas as requested by civilian leadership.

“The Army does a great job of making sure we’re a professional organization that leads, trains, reevaluates who we are and what we do, and comes up with better solutions to implement that training so that our missions are successful,” Cronin said.

While the HRF command and control element worked to manage the response from a central location away from the simulated affected area, other Soldiers with various National Guard units from across the state exercised their capabilities in a realistic training environment at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

“We are training as part of the Homeland Response Force with a mission primarily for search and extraction of victims due to any kind of chemical, biological, radiation, (or) nuclear event,” said Capt. Christopher Monteferante, commander of the 827th Engineer Company and Putnam Valley, New York native. “A mission like this is the worst-case scenario. It’s going to be chaos; it’s thousands of victims and a lack of order. Being prepared for something like this allows us to try and save as many lives as we can and help the community recover from such a tragedy.”

During their portion of the training Soldiers and Airmen from the 827th Engineer Company, the 222nd Chemical Company, and various other units combed through rubble piles of concrete and medal while in full protective suites to locate, extract, decontaminate and treat casualties, allowing them to train as close to reality as possible.

“We never know when tragedy is going to strike, and it’s always better to be prepared and not need this asset as opposed to needing this asset and not having it,” Monteferante said. “What stands out is actually getting on the pile, getting in the suits, and having the soldiers run through for real with everything set up. It gives a better sense of realism than we can accomplish in our home station armories.”

In the coming months, the New York National Guard’s 53rd Troop Command will take over the HRF mission for the region. While this is the last time the 42nd Infantry Division will lead the 2nd HRF, the lessons learned during this exercise and past training events will allow future HRF teams to continue the mission and grow the National Guard’s response capabilities.

“A lot of the Soldiers in the 53rd have been part and parcel over the past decade, two decades at the HRF, so it’s not anything new to them,” Cronin said. “We’ve just improved the process. We’ve incorporated some new technologies for tracking our support to our local civil authorities. So that’ll be a combat multiplier for them.”

“For the most part, we’ve done a great handoff,” Cronin added. “They have the institutional knowledge to take what we have and what we’ve given them and take it to the next level.”

Date Taken: 04.21.2024
Date Posted: 04.22.2024 15:51
Story ID: 469030
Location: CAMP SMITH, NY, US

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