By MICHELLE PIPPIN
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Nearly 300 Missouri National Guard troops are currently training at the Boone County Fire Protection District Training Center in Columbia to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) program.
Soldiers and Airmen from across Missouri are putting their skills to the test to become FEMA's Region VII CERFP search and extraction team.
"In a disaster, when a building has collapsed, our team goes into the rubble and search for victims and bring them out," said Sgt. Joe Matney, of Lebanon. "We've trained really hard for this for a lot of months, and all that training leads up to this week when we're getting certified by FEMA."
The Guardsmen hope to be part of FEMA's Region VII response team, one of 17 such teams throughout the country. Each team consists of four major elements including command and control, search and extraction, decontamination and medical support. FEMA officials will evaluate the team's ability to respond and certify them to respond to real-world disasters.
FEMA established the program following the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. It is designed to prepare National Guardsmen to support state and local first responders in the event of a man-made or natural disaster that requires search and rescue of damaged or collapsed buildings, decontamination and immediate medical treatment of victims.
"This training is mission essential," said Sgt. Nathan Wilson of Monett. "Generally in the Guard, we're training for missions overseas, and we never really know if we'll ever use what we've learned. This is something we'd certainly hope to never use, but with things like tornados and ice storms in the Midwest, it's training we know we'll actually need some day."
Wilson's younger brother, Spc. Jeremy Chapman of Pierce City, said he learned firsthand when he was just 14 years old the need for search and extraction training within the National Guard.
"I lived through the tornado that tore apart Pierce City in May 2003," Chapman said. "Our armory there was used as an emergency shelter and it collapsed from the storm. There were a lot of people trapped inside and hurt bad, and now that we have this specialized training, we can actually help find and secure those individuals and get them out safely."
Staff Sgt. Pat Wimsatt of Monett, said he believes his troops are ready to pass the test.
"This site we're training at is different from anything we've trained on before," Wimsatt explained. "But that's good. There's nothing textbook about these types of situations in the real world. We train for a lot of different possibilities, and then we react to the situation as it is on the ground."
Wimsatt said that the Soldiers' and Airmen's preparation and ability to adapt quickly in stressful situations, are what will make them successful.
"They've trained hard over the past year, and they've earned the right to be here," Wimsatt said. "I have no doubt they'll pass this evaluation, no problem."