185th Airmen join other units to test their ability to respond to disaster

  • Published
  • By Capt Jeremy McClure
  • 185 Air Refueling Wing

A tsunami is typically not a natural disaster that Iowa based Air National Guard Airmen with the 185th Air Refueling Wing would think about having to deal with. But that is the scenario that 35 Airmen from the unit’s medical group found themselves dealing with during their participation in Oregon’s Pathfinder-Minuteman exercise June 24th to the 26th at Camp Rilea, Oregon. The event had 180 participants from the Air and Army Guard units from the region as well as civilian volunteers with experience in medicine and search and rescue.

“This was a great benefit to us as it allowed us to work with outside agencies and other guard units and learn how to respond to different natural disasters that we don’t normally deal with,” said Maj. Debbie Jacobsmeier, a Medical Readiness Officer with the unit. 

Jacobsmeier helped organize the unit’s participation in the exercise that had the members travel from Sioux City to the Oregon base on one of the unit’s KC-135 Stratotankers. The medical group arrived a few days early so that they could conduct some required annual training for members.

The training provided by the unit and during the disaster exercise met many of the recertification requirements for Emergency Medical Technicians and Nurses assigned to the medical group, explained Jacobsmeier. It also fulfilled a requirement that the unit participate in a mass causality drill.

“This is a good morale booster as it gets the team out of the building and allows us to get to know each other better,” said Jacobsmeier.

The Pathfinder-Minuteman exercise was hosted by Oregon Air National Guard’s 173rd Fighter Wing and the Oregon Health Authority. It is the 5th year of the exercise and looks at what would happen if a massive earthquake occurs and causes a tsunami on the coast of Oregon. Responders are placed in Medical Readiness and Response Teams, MRRT, which are made up of civilian and military participants.

“Integrated training is unusual for most civilians,” said Dr. Jonathan Jui, a team leader with Oregon Disaster Medical Team, a non-profit volunteer organization of medical professional who are willing to respond to a mass causality or disaster event.

The MRRT’s are usually composed of one doctor, one nurse, two emergency medical technicians, and two support or administrative personel. This combined team integrates military and civilian responders to help with a timely response to disaster, explained Jui. It also helps civilians become familiar with the military organization and its capabilities to respond to these events.

It is synergistic when all the assets are put together,” said Jui. 

The training was not limited to Camp Rilea as 24 Air and Army Guard members were loaded up on a CH-47 Chinook flown by Oregon Army Guard’s Bravo Company, 168th Aviation Regiment. The team was flown 250 miles to Camp Blanco to practice responding to an austere environment.

“We slept in tents that we had brought with us,” said Airman 1st Class Amanda Armstrong, an Aerospace Medical Technician with the 185th. “I had never been on a Chinook before and never thought I’d have an opportunity to do that.”

While at Camp Blanco, Armstrong and the others received training in water purification, advance EMT training in hemorrhage or bleeding control and treating children in austere environments. The group also put their new skills to the test during a mass causality drill conducted there.

“Usually I am in more of a clinical based setting and this was a good opportunity to get out in tents,” said Armstrong.

During the mass causality drills at both sites, the teams had to locate simulated patients. Once located, they then had to triage and treat those patients based on the seriousness of their illness or injuries. While responders at Camp Blanco had to respond in the wilderness, Camp Rilea had the challenge of working after sun down.   

“This gave us an opportunity to learn more about the people we were with and their capabilities,” said Armstrong.

In addition to the Iowa Air National Guard’s 185th Air Refueling Wing, the exercise also hosted members of the Oregon Air National Guard 142nd and 173rd fighter wings, Idaho Air National Guard 124th Fighter Wing, Nevada Air National Guard 152nd Airlift Wing, and Idaho Army National Guard Medical Detachment.

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