AZ Airmen team up with CA and NV Air National Guard in Vigilant Guard exercise
By Tinashe Machona, 161st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 22, 2016
PHOENIX -- Members of the Arizona Air National Guard's 161st Medical Group sharpen their emergency response capabilities while participating in a training exercise here known as Vigilant Guard Nov. 17.
The purpose of the Vigilant Guard is to prepare the 161st Air Refueling Wing for disaster support within Joint Operations Areas with California and Nevada while coordinating with local, state and federal agencies to preserve life and protect property.
"The exercise gave us an opportunity for us to be more proficient in our homeland defense packages, which is how we respond to natural, accidental and intentional disasters," said Chief Master Sgt. George Silvas, the wing's Medical Group Superintendent. Silvas noted that the exercise encompassed three packages - bioenvironmental engineering, patient decontamination and triage.
The scenario for the exercise involved an earthquake that caused a train to derail resulting in multiple injuries and significant skin irritation. Nine patients were involved in the exercise. Silvas explained that part of the exercise was for the wing's medical group to employ its procedures while partnering with the California and Nevada Air National Guard.
Bioenvironmental engineering, one of the packages implemented, was instrumental in Health Risk Assessment factors. This served as a pre-establishment tool designed to remedy matters such as dust, debris and contact elements affecting patients. Maj. Cassandra McCloud, the wing's bioenvironmental engineer, was responsible for making the initial determination as to the type of contamination that affected the patients.
"Our main focus is to make requisite assessments about the environmental conditions that may be a hazard to the operation and provide guidance to the decontamination team," McCloud said.
The patient decontamination package was led by Master Sgt. Stephen Mason, the wing's public health representative. He explained that the wing's decontamination package can respond in peacetime or wartime, should the need arise. He added that his team relied on the bioenvironmental engineering team to make its assessment of the contaminant associated with the patients before execution of decontamination procedures.
"Decontamination is important because it destroys as much contaminants as possible to prevent the spread of such substances. This is accomplished by safely cutting off patient's outer clothing in order to wash patients with soapy water and then rinsing them off thoroughly," said Mason. He added that this procedure should eliminate at least 95 percent of the contaminants, allowing the patients to receive further treatment in a hospital without contaminating other people.
Although this is the first time that the wing has participated in the exercise, members of the wing gained valuable knowledge and experience in working in the joint environment.
"I am honored to participate in the first exercise Vigilant Guard at the wing. It gives the newer airmen an opportunity to get the experience and allows the medical group to learn from its mistakes," said Mason.
According to Lt. Col. Darcy Swaim, the wing's clinical nurse, triage is the first step used to identify the most life threatening injuries that would receive priority for treatment.
"Triage is mechanism used to assess the injuries we received today so as to determine which patient needs treatment first," Swaim said. "Triage is an integral part of the exercise that should always be used to determine extent of injury." He added that triage is important because it saves lives.
Swaim, leader of the triage package, and his team observed multiple injuries from the nine patients who arrived at the wing on two C-130 Hercules aircraft. Simulated injuries included burns, femur bone fracture, neck wounds and facial lacerations.
"The nice thing about exercises like these is that the simulated injuries are exactly the type of injuries that we see when we go to a combat zone," Swaim said. The Vigilant Guard exercise prepares the medical group for peacetime and wartime contingencies.
Swaim added that everyone played their part with a sense of purpose and urgency executing procedures with a high degree of competency.
Silvas emphasized that the big challenge of the exercise was the patient decontamination package. He said that the package mandates at least 12 participants and requires a number of logistical functionalities such as decontamination suits, masks, gas tanks and the decontamination tent. Given the task, Silvas conveyed his satisfaction with the decontamination team.
"I saw really good motivation and teamwork from all the players in the exercise," Silvas said. "I was impressed with the exercise because everyone treated it as if it were a real-world situation and how the wing coordinated with the California and Nevada Air National Guard as joint operation."
"It was good for us to display what we do and how we do it, not only as a medical group but as a wing," said Silvas.