Army Reserve Soldiers conduct life-saving joint training with Miami-Dade Fire Department

By Sgt. 1st Class Brent Powell | 76th Operational Response Command | Feb. 1, 2019

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — To prepare for, and remain ready to respond to what could be called "America's Worst Day," a group of nearly 300 Army Reserve Soldiers recently joined forces with approximately 100 personnel from the Miami-Dade Fire Department, Army North, U.S. Army Reserve Command and a host of civilian agencies here Jan. 24 to conduct Defense Support of Civil Authorities training during Operation Homestead 19.

The annual exercise, now in its third year, is designed to test the coordination, inter-agency operability and communications capabilities between local first responders at a mass-casualty incident and the follow support provided by Department of Defense forces.

Those DoD forces include a special group of Army Reserve Soldiers from the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Response Enterprise-A, Task Force 76, 76th Operational Response Command.

Composed of highly-skilled engineers, expert medical personnel, mass casualty decontamination specialists and communication professionals, the team is able to quickly respond where ever and whenever they are called upon to save lives, minimize human suffering, maintain public confidence and mitigate the effects of a CBRN incident.

Among those participating in the training this year were approximately 80 Soldiers from the 413th Chemical Company, 457th Chemical Battalion, 415th Chemical Brigade, 76th ORC, who were tasked with providing mass casualty decontamination operations in support of the incident commander.

Once the training scenario began, the unit quickly setting up two mass-casualty decontamination tents comprised of hundreds of feet of hoses, numerous sprayers, nozzles, water buckets, pumps, generators, power cords, and much more. They accomplished their task in just over 2 hours, managing to come in 15 minutes under the required standard. 

Shortly after having the decon lines set up, a crowd of more than 100 role-players ("victims" of a mock radiological incident), descended upon the team putting all the Soldiers skills to the test and keeping them very busy for the next several hours. By the end of the exercise the warriors had processed more than 500 civilian casualties, and pumped more than 2400 gallons of water through their decon lines.

"These Soldiers performed very well today," said Tony Dawn, a decontamination evaluation analyst from Army North. "The goal was for them to process 20 non-ambulatory patients and 40 ambulatory patients through the decon lines in an hour and they well-exceeded that. Their cohesiveness as a unit really came together and it looked like they had been doing this for a long time."

One of the Soldiers involved in the ambulatory wash station was Army Reserve Spc. Shenora Dixson, a decontamination specialist and native of Jamaica, assigned to the 413th Chem. Co. "I think everything went really well today," said Dixson. "We didn't really have any issues. We met our setup time and our integration with the medical unit went smoothly."

Another Soldier ensuring operations went smoothly on the decon line was Army Reserve Sgt. Travis Grover, non-ambulatory noncommissioned officer-in-charge and native of Florence, South Carolina assigned to the 413th Chem. Co. "It's good to know you can help those in need if and when the call comes," he said. "It's a good mission to be on and I enjoy it."

The mission provided the Soldiers with plenty of hands-on training during the exercise, and according to Army Reserve Capt. Jordan Clayton, commanding officer, 413th Chem. Co., that was just one of the many benefits it provided.

"There are several benefits to our Soldiers in an exercise like this," he said. "But the biggest I think was just the integration between our Soldiers and the various civilian agencies here. This is the first time we've trained with another civilian entity outside of Army North, so it does open up our mind set working with civilian authorities as an Army Reserve Element."

According to Clayton, the experience of working alongside civilian authorities will be among the many lessons learned at this year's exercise.

"I think our biggest take away from this exercise is being able to well-define the specific mission roles and responsibilities as they relate to troops to tasks," he said. "That plus the integration and camaraderie we had with the civilian authorities here made this a valuable training event for us." 

Overall, the exercise helped Clayton validate that his unit is more ready than ever to assume this mission assignment in a few months. "I'm very confident that our unit could perform our mission if we were ever called upon," he said. "We have a really good group of Soldiers, and although we are a little lean on personnel, our Soldiers are very quick to do whatever it takes to make things happen and accomplish our mission. That's not only what America wants from us, but it's what America expects from us."