St. Joe Air Guard unit helps validate area’s Homeland Response Force

Airmen of the St. Joseph-based 139th Medical Group of the Missouri National Guard treat a victim during a mock validation exercise for the Region 7 Homeland Response Force at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex in North Vernon, Ind. Watching in the background is Maj. Gen. Martin Umbarger, adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard and a contingent of Israeli Defense Force officers. (Bill Phelan photo)

Bill Phelan

NORTH VERNON, Ind. - The region's military Homeland Response Force has received its validation certification thanks in part to the St. Joseph-based 139th Medical Group of the Missouri Air National Guard.

The U.S. Department of Defense is in the process of establishing 10 rapid military response forces that would assist civil authorities in the event of a natural or manmade disaster that exceeds their response capabilities. Based on response areas created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Region 7 consists of Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. Under a Defense Department guideline, the St. Louis-based Region 7 Homeland Response Force was to achieve validation no later than September of this year.

Each Homeland Response Force is made up of 570 Soldiers and Airmen of the National Guard with expertise in decontamination, search and extraction, security, and in the case of the 139th, on the spot medical care.

At the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex in North Vernon, Ind., March 19-23, the 139th participated in a mock validation scenario in which a chemical explosion rocks the Scottrade Center in downtown St. Louis during a Disney on Ice performance. Explosions then occur at Children's Hospital and in the city's Compton Heights neighborhood. As a result, hundreds of victims, many of them contaminated and seriously injured, need to be located and removed from the disaster site for decontamination and medical treatment.

"You have to have a clear understanding of where your limiting factors are in a scenario like this," said Maj. Kimberly Smith, of Faucet, Mo., medical operations officer for the Region 7 Force.

Working out of tents in record-breaking warm temperatures, Airmen of the 139th treated victims of the disaster scenario under the watchful eye of observers from the Joint Interagency Training and Education Center, who graded every responder's move in the goal toward validation of the force. Civilians portraying the victims cried out for help and displayed various serious injuries through the use of realistic makeup, which made the 139th's mission more challenging.

"Our troops performed very well," said Smith. "They stepped up to the plate, learned their roles and used their training to achieve success. You can talk and talk this mission, but until you get here and do it you won't really understand how this is all going to work. The people portraying the victims, moaning and crying for help, that is all part of the realism and you're going to have to deal with that in the real world. Some of these young airmen have not experienced critical incident stress before this exercise so it's valuable training to go through this process."
Following the exercise, the Region 7 Homeland Response Force received its validation certification from Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Danner, adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard.

The 139th Medical Group is a subordinate unit of the 139th Airlift Wing headquartered in St. Joseph.

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