FORT EUSTIS, Va. – Leaders from the Massachusetts Air and Army National Guard visited Joint Task Force Civil Support to get a better understanding of the task force’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear response operations.
U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Gary W. Keefe, who was accompanied by five staff officers, said the main purpose for the visit was to create a partnership between the two forces which is essential for working together effectively.
"As the National Guard and states continue to prepare to respond to manmade and natural disasters, we need to develop a relationship with DoD (Department of Defense) and other federal agencies where we can capitalize on the skill sets and resources they have in case we are ever called in to help," said Keefe, the assistant adjutant general for the Air, Massachusetts National Guard.
JTF-CS is the only standing chemical, biological, radiation, and nuclear joint task force in the U.S. If called upon to support state-level emergency response operations, such as responding to a nuclear detonation or catastrophic chemical spill, JTF-CS provides command and control of 5,200 federal military forces throughout the U.S. that make up the Defense CBRN Response Force.
The Response Force is comprised of allocated military units throughout the U.S. who are on call specifically to support local, state, federal and tribal governments and agencies. During an actual emergency response, JTF-CS and its Response Forces support state and local responders by providing a number of life-saving capabilities, such as search and rescue, air and ambulatory medical evacuations, temporary hospitalization and medical treatment, supply delivery, communications, and patient decontamination. The Response Force also provides engineering, route clearance and a number of CBRN marking and site survey services.
Divided into four separate task forces, the Response Force is tiered to respond quickly in order to “save lives, prevent further injury and provide critical temporary support to enable community recovery,” according to JTF-CS’ official mission statement. The Response Force’s life-saving components, such as the Marine Corps’ Chemical, Biological Incident Response Force, are trained and equipped for response in 24 hours or less to any domestic CBRN disaster.
“We can provide all those kinds of assets at a moment’s notice with a very quick response time,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Scot Peeke, JTF-CS operations.
During last Augusts’ eastern seaboard destruction left by Hurricane Irene, JTF-CS did just that—54 personnel deployed from Fort Eustis and oversaw multiple aerial surveillance missions in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s recovery efforts in North Carolina.
JTF-CS and its Response Force is part of a larger, tiered military response force of about 18,000 federal and state-level military units specially trained and ready to support state and local emergency responders at a moment’s notice.
According to Keefe, he had limited knowledge of what role JTF-CS plays during emergencies and what tools the task force uses to respond quickly.
"It's been an eye-opener for us," said Keefe. "We look forward to building a future relationship with JTF-CS and tap into the skill sets they have here."
Keefe stated that if Massachusetts is faced with an emergency, the state’s forces may need augmentation so it is beneficial to establish a relationship with various agencies that will have the manpower and capability to provide support, such as JTF-CS. Keefe also said that since Massachusetts is closely surrounded by many other states, an emergency in one of them could affect many – making it all the more important for his team to understand what capabilities and limitations JTF-CS, and other federal and state responders, possess.
In addition to viewing JTF-CS’ facilities and communications gear, Keefe and his staff received briefs from key JTF-CS staff members on the various command and control processes that allow JTF-CS to quickly and efficiently integrate into response operation. Through the “mission assignment” process, JTF-CS can quickly convert requests for support from state agencies, via a primary federal agency such as the Federal Emergency Management Administration, and turn them into operational orders that direct the Defense CBRN Response Force into action.
The key to success during an actual catastrophic response, however, is collaboration and integration before an incident ever occurs, according to Peeke.
“Before an incident actually occurs we are already integrating with local authorities, civil authorities, National Guard assets and planning and preparing well ahead of time,” said Peeke. “I am well aware of the robust capabilities the National Guard provides to a CBRN-type incident. Understand that we will be layering on top of that if the need arises.”
The Massachusetts National Guard’s visit was part of a larger collaborative effort between JTF-CS and its “community of partners” – the various federal and state agencies JTF-CS would work with during an actual response operation. JTF-CS also recently hosted teams from the Florida and Virginia National Guards.
“This trip has opened my eyes to the important role that JTF-CS plays as part of homeland protection and making sure the citizens are taken care of in the wake of an emergency,” Keefe said.
For more information about the National Guard’s role in Homeland Defense, visit the National Guard’s website at: http://www.ng.mil/features/HomelandDefense/cerfp/index.html.
For additional information about Joint Task Force Civil Support and the Defense CBRN Response Force, visit us online at: www.jtfcs.northcom.mil.