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Mass casualty training, exercise prepares 131st Airmen for state response

Senior Airman Joel Francisco, a munitions technician with the 131st
Maintenance Squadron, and Tech. Sgt. Jason Roddy of the 239th Combat
Communications Squadron, help to evacuation of their wingman Senior
Airman Scott McElfresh, 131st MXS.  The Airmen participated in a simulated tornado exercise during annual training to help prepare them for state emergency duty. 
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Traci Payne)

Senior Airman Joel Francisco, a munitions technician with the 131st Maintenance Squadron, and Tech. Sgt. Jason Roddy of the 239th Combat Communications Squadron, help to evacuate their wingman Senior Airman Scott McElfresh, 131st MXS, during a training event at Camp Clark, Missouri, June 4, 2015. The Airmen participated in a simulated tornado exercise during annual training to help prepare them for state emergency duty. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Traci Payne)

Master Sgt. Ervin Lockhart, a radio frequency technician with the 239th Combat Communications Squadron, directs his team as they move simulated barriers out of their path.  Lockhart served as the convoy and incident commander during a mass casualty exercise at Camp Clark, Missouri, June 4, 2015.

Master Sgt. Ervin Lockhart, a radio frequency technician with the 239th Combat Communications Squadron, directs his team as they move simulated barriers out of their path. Lockhart served as the convoy and incident commander during a mass casualty exercise at Camp Clark, Missouri, June 4, 2015. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Traci Payne)

Camp Clark, Mo. -- Airmen with the Missouri Air National Guard's 131st Bomb Wing participated in a mass casualty exercise as part of state emergency duty training here June 4.

The exercise was part of a wing-wide effort to ensure Citizen-Airmen are prepared to conduct emergency operations in response to a natural disaster, said Maj. Joseph Randolph, a critical care clinical nurse with the 131st Medical Group.

"We are doing this to prepare for a real-world state emergency duty," Randolph said. "This year, we had more supplies, more people and more injuries than when we did in last year's exercise."

In the days leading up to the exercise, Airmen went through training to strengthen their skills.  They learned to drive Humvees and maneuver them in a convoy, spent hours learning first-responder medical techniques and participated in land navigation exercises.

When the exercise kicked off, Airmen learned the basic information about their mission.  In the scenario, a tornado had touched down in the local area, leaving a path of destruction and multiple casualties.

The exercise was tailored to ensure Airmen with a wide-range of experience were challenged.  Master Sgt. Ervin Lockhart, a seasoned veteran of overseas deployments, found himself in a new leadership role.

"I had past experience from previous deployments to Balad, Iraq, and Shindad, Afghanistan," said Lockhart, who serves as a radio frequency technician with the 239th Combat Communications Squadron at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis.  "It was my first time as a convoy commander and as an incident commander."

Chaplain 1st Lt. Charlie Dey was on-hand, ready to assume his real-world mission of caring for victims.

"A lot of my role becomes to maintain a non-anxious presence," Dey said.  "I'm here to provide a sense of solace in a time of chaos."

And the scene was chaotic.

When the convoy reached the area hit worst by the simulated tornado, Airmen began responding to the causalities. First, they triaged survivors, then provided medical treatment, using the skills they learned in the previous days.  Fellow Airmen served as role players and acted out various wounds and ailments.

Senior Airman Jacob Moll, a munitions technician with the 131st Maintenance Squadron, tended to an 87-year-old man with a broken shoulder and a head laceration.

"The actors were good," Moll said. "It made it realistic. Overall, it's been good training."

The training cadre agreed.

Senior Airman Courtney Raynes, a dental assistant with the 131st Medical Group, was a key-player in the instruction of self-aid and buddy care.  She observed the exercise and evaluated the Airmen's performance.

"You can tell they haven't been around this kind of situation before," Raynes said.  "But once they designated a person in charge, their training started to kick in."

Col. Joanie Peterson, 131st Medical Group commander, assessed the Airmen in a gathering after the mission. She praised them for taking what they'd learned and applying it during the scenario.

"I really appreciated seeing you all reaching for your belts and supplies instead of looking around for first aid kits," Peterson told the Airmen.  "In real life, that's what you'd do for your friend."

Peterson spoke of the devastation that struck nearby Joplin in May 2011, and emphasized the importance of emergency response and improvised first-aid.  She recalled how the townspeople made their way through the debris to the hospital, only to find the hospital had also been hit by the tornado.

Even before the first responders reached the area, citizens were already helping each other. The skills the Airmen learned at Camp Clark could save lives in communities across the state should a similar disaster occur.

"Self-aid and buddy care gives you a heads up over the average person," Peterson said. "You're going to make the difference there."