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Maine hosts National Guard disaster response training

A decontamination team with the New England CERFP practices decontamination of a simulated casualty during their Nov. 5-7 training in Brunswick, Maine. (Photo Credit: Spc. Darin Douin)

A decontamination team with the New England CERFP practices decontamination of a simulated casualty during their Nov. 5-7 training in Brunswick, Maine. (Photo Credit: Spc. Darin Douin)

BRUNSWICK, Maine -- About 160 Soldiers and Airmen from Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island responded to a simulated explosion in a semiannual disaster response exercise at the former naval air station Nov. 5-7.

The participants were all members of the New England CERFP, a regional team that can be called on to assist first responders by providing support and assets in a large-scale emergency. CERFP stands for CBRN enhanced response force package and CBRN stands for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear.

"The scenario here is a simulated response to an explosion," said Maj. Michael Gary, executive officer for Maine's 521st Troop Command, which oversees the regional unit. "The search and extraction teams have been evacuating simulated casualties from collapsed structures and working around some asbestos issues."

Gary said this type of collective training exercise is invaluable, particularly for team members whose individual military specialties may differ from their tasks within the CERFP. For example, some members of the search-and-extraction team are trained as engineers in their regular military jobs. Many within the decontamination team are infantrymen with their home unit.

"This training is absolutely essential and critical to our ability to be ready," said Lt. Col. John Gorham. "We need this time to be able to set up our footprint with all our equipment and interface with the other elements because it's a tri-state solution – Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island."

Gorham is a physician from the New Hampshire Air National Guard's 157th Air Refueling Wing out of Portsmouth and leads the medical element of the CERFP. He describes collective training exercises like this one as a chance to "flex our muscles" and solidify team members' understanding of their roles.

The CERFP is one example of Air and Army National Guard elements working jointly in defense support to civil authorities.

"For domestic operations for the National Guard, there's a big push right now nationwide," said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Mexcur, who leads New Hampshire's decontamination team. Mexcur said the CERFP training is an asset to FEMA Region 1 and can also benefit his Soldiers in their regular military duties if they are handling hazardous materials or working with civilian incident commanders.

Nationwide, there are 17 CERFPs, all composed of regional Air and Army National Guard personnel who perform additional annual training beyond the traditional two weeks a year focused on the federal wartime mission. The capabilities of a CERFP include search and extraction, decontamination, triage and stabilization, fatality search and recovery, and site communications.

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