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Puerto Rico Air National Guard, federal, local emergency responders conduct hurricane exercise in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico

AGUADILLA, Puerto Rico -- Members of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard PRANG 156th Airlift Wing, Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency PREMA and U.S. Marine Corps Reserve participated in a joint exercise here in response to a simulated hurricane crisis on the island of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands Jan. 23, 2016.

The exercise deemed as CARIBBEAN DOMESTIC RESPONSE was coordinated to encourage the interaction between federal and local agencies in response to a domestic emergency or natural disaster in the region and to identify lessons learned to improve the joint forces procedures and capabilities.

"We tested our collective ability to deliver a well-coordinated response to a possible future emergency in our region," said Col. Edward L. Vaughan, PRANG 156th Airlift Wing commander. "The partnerships and relationships of the participating agencies are stronger because of it and are critical to the safety and security of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands." 

PRANG 156th Airlift Wing airmen in conjunction with PREMA personnel set up a Joint Crisis Command Center at the Rafael Hernandez Airport in Aguadilla, where they coordinated operations and received exercise evacuees as they arrived from the affected island.

Airmen and equipment from the PRANG's 156th Communications Flight were airlifted aboard WC-130 Hercules aircraft from the 198th Airlift Squadron to the Joint Crisis Center, where they established incoming and outgoing satellite communications for the exercise. 198th Airlift Squadron aircrews also airlifted rescue personnel and equipment from Muñiz Air National Guard Base to Aguadilla. Once the personnel and cargo were unloaded, the aircrew then simulated a flight to St. Croix to evacuate casualties from the island.

"This exercise was a great training experience for our Communications Flight," said Capt. Luis Aponte, 156th Communications Flight commander. "Our Airmen answered the challenge and successfully completed the mission in an environment outside our day to day comfort zone," said Aponte.

Meanwhile, the 156th Medical Group's Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) and PREMA responded by providing medical personnel, tents, equipment, and ambulances at the Joint Crisis Center for the care, stabilization and transport of the casualties.

Lt. Col. Jose Matias, Officer in Charge of the medical element of the CERFP, explained that this exercise had been coordinated to create a mass casualty scenario resulting from a natural disaster and how CERFP and PREMA jointly respond to provide medical treatment to survivors and evacuees.

Maj. Diana Peña, CERFP Medical Operations and Planning Officer, explained that one of the exercise scenarios in which the CERFP medical element responded included receiving Marines who had sustained injuries during a patrol. The injuries to the Marines came from a simulated explosion from damaged infrastructure and gas lines.
"The injured Marines were transported to the CERFP for medical treatment and stabilizing before being transported to the nearest hospital," said Peña.

Another element of the exercise included the participation of the 156th Force Support Squadron FSS Fatality Search and Recovery Team FSRT.

Master Sgt. Josue Dones, FSRT, Non Commissioned Officer in charge, explained the FSRT's scenario involved entering a building in the Aguadilla airport, which served as simulated damaged infrastructure in St. Croix, wearing their special recovery gear and breathing apparatus. They trained alongside the Puerto Rico Urban Search and Rescue Task Force in the recovery and extraction of exercise casualties and body parts covered from the rubble inside the building, said Dones.

Meanwhile, Marines of Detachment 1 Landing Support Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 45, stationed in Fort Buchanan, were also provided training in the loading and unloading of cargo from the WC-130 aircraft. They also established and maintained security at the entry point of the Joint Crisis Center and airfield. 

"We should continue to encourage, coordinate and promote the interaction between the PRANG, PREMA and other federal and local responders, said Chief Master Sgt. Harry M. Capo, 156th Air Transportation Unit superintendent. "These types of exercises are necessary for the development of an excellent Joint Domestic Operations Force as we learn from them how to reduce our response times and establish measures to improve the efficiency of our collective medical and rescue operations."

Vaughan added, "I am very proud of all our Airmen and mission partners. Many people worked very hard to make this happen.  I'm especially impressed with Chief Harry Capo's innovation and vision in designing this scenario."

The CERFPs and Civil Support Teams (CSTs) provide a phased capability. The CSTs detect and identify CBRNE agents/substances, assess their effects, advise the local authorities on managing response to attacks, and assist with requests for other forces. The CERFPs locate and extract victims from a contaminated environment, perform mass patient/casualty decontamination, and provide treatment as necessary to stabilize patients for evacuation.