SLOAN, Nev. –
A bomb exploded at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It was peak hours during an event – bodies lay everywhere in disarray, confusion of the injured and fear from those nearby intensifies the scene.
But through the chaos, the calming force of the first responders takes root. Though both military and civilian, the two entities work together seamlessly offering first aid, life support, and order.
It’s a scene no one wants, but one that must be trained for – especially when agencies both inside and outside the military have to work together to respond effectively.
Soldiers under the 416th Theater Engineer Command joined other Army Reserve and multi-component units, as well as civilian agencies to ensure they are ready in the case of any stateside terror attack or natural disaster during the weeklong training event in Nevada that culminated with the mass casualty exercise Jan. 28, 2022.
“The motto for this mission is prepare for America’s worst day,” said 1st Lt. Torrence Hass, 409th Engineer Vertical Construction Company commander out of Windsor, Colorado.
His Urban Search and Rescue teams joined other response team to carry out real–time reaction to the mass casualty event with a decontamination station for those affected with burns from chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) exposure. Additional efforts came from CBRN reconnaissance teams, medical operations, and emergency construction teams along with the search and rescue efforts.
From the raceway to the bleachers and into the parking lot area of the simulation area, there was plenty of action for the Soldiers to train on – dummy victims, collapsed walls, and even “injured” role players.
“As operations begin, it’s essential the group of personnel maintain awareness not just for the physical hazards, but watch out for structural collapse as it’s an unstable structure,” said Spc. Eric Doville, a horizontal construction engineer. He said even in training environments dangers exist, as troops are donned in hazardous material suits and carry multiple detectors. “Entering into the hot zone, troops… are always able to turn back at any moment. They know that.”
Sgt. Cory Lee, a carpentry mason by trade, was the decontamination noncommissioned officer in charge for the exercise and helped support the proper wear and follow through of the decontamination process.
“You gotta get your game face on whenever you go downrange,” Lee said, agreeing with Doville of the dangers of the job.
“If we have walking wounded, they will come along the showers where the rescuers would be going as well, then my own guys will be in there. They have to get monitored and checked to be sure that they’re clean before they cross on over to medical.”
He said this process is vital as cross contamination could make things far worse.
“It’s important to have medics embedded with the rescue team because of the hazardous environment. And, at the same time, we also provide medical support for the engineers to make sure they’re good and we’re keeping track of their dosage of radiation,” said Sgt. Kevin Sampson, a healthcare specialist also known as a combat medic, with the 807th Medical Care Command (Deployment Support).
Plus, he said the real-world benefit of having medics on the ground is a bonus. “It’s beneficial even in training because in case anything goes wrong, we’re right there with them.”
Medical command detachments were attached to the search and rescue teams to provide medical treatment as needed. After decontamination, the medics continue care at a treatment tent and then evacuate victims to local medical support.
Civilian counterparts helped simulate an Incident Command System that would respond to and work alongside Soldiers during an event. Plus, active component observer-controller-trainers were on hand to assess and immediately correct all functions of the decontamination, urban search and rescue and medical teams during the exercise.
“It’s difficult to get all three together,” explained John Larson, plans and policy chief, U.S. Army North Command, as each specialty would need its own specific scenario and elements to properly train. Fortunately, Nevada had it all.
The mass casualty exercise was hosted by the 455th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Brigade, based in Sloan that falls under the 76th Operational Response Command out of Salt Lake City.