Soldiers of the Missouri National Guard's 1140th Military Police Company, based in Mexico, Mo., work to decontaminate the victim of a chemical explosion during a validation training exercise for the Region 7 Homeland Response Force at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex in North Vernon, Ind. (Bill Phelan photo)
NORTH VERNON, Ind. - A regional disaster response force is now validated and ready for action thanks in part to the Mexico-based 1140th Military Police Company of the Missouri National Guard.
Soldiers of the 1140th were among 566 Missouri Guardsmen participating in a large-scale validation exercise last week for the Region 7 Homeland Response Force, one of 10 such rapid response teams being established by the U.S. Department of Defense. Each Homeland Response Force is designed to assist civil authorities in the event of a natural or manmade disaster that exceeds their response capability.
The two-week validation exercise took place at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex in North Vernon, Ind. and culminated with a scenario involving several explosions in the city of St. Louis. In the Region 7 training scenario, a chemical explosion has occurred at the Scottrade Center during a Disney on Ice performance, followed by two explosions at Children's Hospital and yet another in the city's Compton Heights neighborhood.
Stepping outside of their usual role as military police officers, soldiers of the 1140th were asked to decontaminate victims of the explosions. Complicating this task was the fact that many of those portraying the victims had sustained severe injuries, which were simulated with very realistic makeup. In addition, the 1140th was under the close scrutiny of observers from the Joint Interagency Training and Education Center, who graded their every move toward the goal of validation.
"In this scenario we're treating both the walking-wounded and those that are unconscious, whether they are civilians, first-responders or soldiers who have been in the hot zone," explained Capt. Jeremiah Rinehart, of Columbia, commander of the 1140th. "We wash them down so they can receive additional medical treatment. Otherwise they would just continue to expand the contaminated area."
Filling in for a chemical decontamination unit deployed to the Middle East, soldiers of the 1140th had to undergo intensive disaster response training in advance of the exercise.
"We are using equipment that we don't usually use," Rinehart said. "We have shower tents and we're testing victims for radiation and chemical agents. We're processing 225 walking-wounded and 75 non-ambulatory people in one hour, which is maximum capacity."
In an assembly line type of process, each disaster victim entered the decontamination tent and emerged from the other side ready for further treatment or release.
Assisting the 1140th were 23 soldiers of the 3175th Chemical Company, based in St. Louis County. Most of that unit is deployed to Qatar on a base security mission, ironically an assignment usually performed by military police.
"Were very experienced in this type of training, but this is a huge learning curve for the 1140th," said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Gardner, of St. Louis, the senior noncommissioned officer from the 3175th. "The 1140th has worked really hard to learn this mission and they have done very well. It really stresses the flexibility of the Missouri National Guard and the irony of the situation isn't lost on me."
Equally impressed was Lt. Col. Rodney Ginter, of Columbia, commander of the 205th Military Police Battalion, which the 1140th is a part of.
"This exercise requires our soldiers to do things they are not accustomed to," Ginter said. "We are wearing chemical suits and performing a decontamination mission that would have been the assignment of a deployed chemical unit and the 1140th has stepped up and done a great job."
Mirroring regions defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Region 7 consists of Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. Under Defense Department guidelines, the St. Louis-based Region 7 Homeland Response Force was required to achieve validation no later than September.
In addition to decontamination units, each response force also includes security personnel, search and extraction teams, medical units and command and control personnel from both the Army and Air National Guard.
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