Guard cadre train fellow Airmen during emergency response exercise

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Justin Clark
  • 131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs
A team of over a dozen Citizen-Airmen from the Missouri Air National Guard's 131st Bomb Wing planned and led emergency response training for their fellow Guardsmen at Camp Clark in early June.

As the only component of America's armed forces with a state emergency response mission, training on this mission is critical, said Col. Kimbra Sterr, 131st Maintenance Group commander.

"The training staff has gone above and beyond in planning and executing the exercise," Sterr said.  "We train regularly for our federal mission, and it's just as important to train to serve our state.  Their hard work has helped our Airmen to stay ready to respond if there's a state emergency, which makes our Airmen better able to serve their friends and neighbors."

Planners for this year's two-week-long emergency response training began work immediately after the conclusion of the 131st's training here last year. They coordinated with several military and civilian agencies, including Missouri National Guard Headquarters, the Missouri Army National Guard staff at Camp Clark, the 1-135 Attack/Reconnaissance Battalion, 131st Force Support Squadron's Services Flight, the 131st Civil Engineering Flight, the 239th Combat Communications Squadron, the Cass County Sheriff's Department, Park University, and all the groups within the wing.

"We've developed a relationship with our counterparts, so that when we're put in a disaster environment, we can communicate that much better," said Capt. Aaron Armstrong, maintenance officer with 131st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.  In civilian life, Armstrong works as director of maintenance for an airline in St. Louis.

Camp Clark provides a perfect opportunity for Airmen to train for state emergency duty, Armstrong said.   Their training included Humvee driving and rollover training, convoy operations, first aid and land navigation.

"We get some good training, but just as importantly, we get fellowship," said Armstrong.  "Having fellowship makes us better at state emergency duty because we know who we're working with."

Armstrong said that the training was critical to fully and smartly support the 131st's state mission.

"We want to be the go-to unit when there's an issue in the state," Armstrong said.  "We want to be called.  And because of this training, we're that much more prepared to navigate it when something happens.  This training is invaluable from the state emergency duty aspect."

One of the major components of the training was vehicle operations, said Senior Master Sgt. Kirk Lindell, 131st Maintenance Squadron low observable technician, who also helped lead training.  Familiarization with the vehicles is critical for being fully prepared for state emergency duty.

"If we're ever activated for state emergency duty, and we do flood duty, you have to know ahead of time how to operate and drive the vehicle," Lindell said.  "We do wellness checks on people, which require us to operate in rough conditions.  You have to know how to deal with all kinds of conditions."

Much of the prior coordination was accomplished by Master Sgt. Jennifer Fanoele, programs and resources with the 131st Maintenance Operations Flight.  Fanoele said the training is very effective in helping to keep the 131st ready for state emergency response.

"When we're done, we'll be able to say that we have 150 to 200 Humvee drivers trained, as well as troop commanders, convoy commanders and radio operators," Fanoele said.

Tech. Sgt. Joe Hudson, a technician with the 131st Maintenance Operations Flight, explained the value of training to prepare for flood disaster response, which is a common cause for activation for the Missouri Guard.  Since 2009, the Guard has taken on 15 state missions, including six flood and three tornado responses, and has mobilized more than 5,700 personnel for state emergency response.

"We gain the experience on what it takes to build a levee to help during a flood, so that in an emergency situation we already know what to do," Hudson said.  "It's all to help provide support for the citizens of the state.  When the time comes, we're effective as possible because we've already had the training."

In addition to the skills practiced, another integral part of the training is getting people to work together from different military career fields. The feedback from last year's training indicated that meeting Airmen from other sections paid huge dividends.

"The impact of relations within the unit means you're able to network with others from different units within the wing," Fanoele said.

One of the first skills on which the Airmen were trained was land navigation, which was also an important team-building exercise.  Land navigation is also a useful skill in responding to aircraft incidents, which plays a part in the 131st's federal mission.

Senior Master Sgt. Ken Huff, 131st Maintenance Squadron avionics and accessories flight chief, said that land navigation is an important skill to have in search and rescue in the event of a downed aircraft.

"When you're searching for pieces of an airplane and need to cover a large area, you need to run gridlines so you know what you've covered and what you haven't," said Huff.  "You need to be able to read a compass, and everybody needs to know how to follow compass directions."

Hudson helped to plan and teach the land navigation portion.

"I helped to record and locate our land navigation points, and set up the land navigation course," Hudson said. "I located all the waypoints and we all familiarized ourselves with the course so that we could help anyone who got off course."

Hudson said he felt it was beneficial to the trainees.

"I thought it went well," said Hudson.  "They went straight to the points, and I actually expected it to take longer.  Instead, people just grasped it."

Lindell said he felt that the training was as successful if not more so than last year's.

"Once they applied what they learned in the classroom, they figured it out no problem," said Lindell.