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Emergency Managers prove agility in regional training event

  • Published
  • By Penelope Carroll
  • 127th Wing

In the face of the Great Power Competition, Airmen have been charged to consider how agile combat employment aligns with their own career fields. This is true of 56 Air National Guard Emergency Management Airmen as demonstrated in a recent training event held at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center May 13-18, 2024, hosted by the 127th Wing.

In response to the call for the Air Force to become more agile, the DOD wasn’t just talking to pilots and maintainers. While A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft land on highways and KC-135 Stratotankers are refueling with hot engines running, other critical units are defining how they can implement the concept of agile combat employment in a variety of new environments. Emergency managers with the Michigan Air National Guard’s 127th Civil Engineer Squadron tested these concepts at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, May 13-18, 2024 when they hosted a biennial training event called, “CBRN High Intensity Operational Preparedness 2024.”

Emergency managers play a vital role advising commanders when events or intelligence require increased CBRN defense to protect personnel, assets, and the public in the face of CBRN threats. They also provide CBRN detection, identification, reconnaissance, and decontamination capabilities for a variety of situations, including natural disasters, industrial accidents, or deliberate attacks involving hazardous materials.

Aligned with Federal Emergency Management Agency’s regions for more than 20 years, the ANG EM function area manager ensures Airmen in their career field are trained, equipped, and funded. Michigan’s 127th Wing is located in the largest, Region 5, which includes the most bases, wings and Airmen for ANG EM to facilitate. Fourteen units were represented during CHOP 2024.

Chief Master Sgt. Jeremy Bethke, president of the ANG EM Chiefs’ Council, and Region 5 Chief said that Region 5 has led the charge in hosting these types of large-scale EM training events. Region 5 coordinates an EM training event every two years to bring airmen together in a controlled environment, to use equipment and exercise their capabilities at a level not possible at home station. With two decades of experience, he’s seen many changes in the career field.

“The direction of EM has changed from a focus on CBRN defense, to hazmat response, and now it’s shifting back to a CBRN focus.”

Bethke says, the Airmen have changed as well.

“These young airmen are so smart: they don’t rely on technology but they know technology. One of our current goals is to push our Airmen back to using less technology,” Bethke explained. “To accomplish this, we’ve set up a ‘five for 25’ program – five focus areas by 2025, and the training here at the Alpena CRTC gets after all five.”

The five focus areas are decontamination operations, hazard identification, manual plotting, combat skills, and physical and mental fitness. These focus areas will help ANG EM to succeed with the career field’s new unit type code - a five-digit alphanumeric code used by military planners to identify specific types of units, equipment, or capabilities available to combatant commanders.

“Our new UTC is a team of four Airmen who won’t have Security Forces or other support when they’re deployed in the field,” said Master Sgt. Aric Kaufmann, 127th Wing emergency manager and CHOP 2024 planner. “We will not only be CBRN specialists, going out there detecting and identifying the hazard, sampling the hazard and determining what it is, we will do this while also protecting ourselves and pulling security in the field.”

Detection involves the use of specialized equipment to identify the presence of CBRN substances in the environment. Identification determines the agent present. Reconnaissance involves gathering information about the extent and nature of the contamination. Decontamination is how hazardous materials are removed from people, equipment, and the environment.

“This training has been designed for emergency management Airmen to experience what it will be like to forward deploy into an austere environment and operate with only their small team,” said Kaufmann. “Components of this four-day training included intelligence briefings and discussions about leadership, manual plotting exercises, and land navigation. We also rucked in mission-oriented protective posture gear up to two miles into various CBRN scenarios.”

CHOP 2024 cadre trained the group on approximately 33 mission-based tasks, ranging from equipment use to briefing commanders. They also created four training scenarios that tested EM response to homemade explosives, unexploded ordinances, and biological and chemical labs.

The training group included Airmen from Region 5, of all EM experience levels. One Airman recently graduated from technical school and was falling in with her team for the first time in Alpena.

“This is my very first event and it was so good to work with my team performing EM tasks,” said Amn Alice Hamilton.

Hamilton was also promoted during her time at the CRTC.

“These exercises were amazing and I thought the cadre did a fantastic job setting up realistic scenarios. I also went on a tour with cadre after our exercise where they discussed why they set things up as they did. It was a great opportunity for me to learn from the vast experience and knowledge of my new coworkers,” Hamilton said.

Emergency managers also work closely with all civilian first responders, public health agencies, and the other military branches to coordinate CBRN response, making training, planning, and preparedness the most essential components of ensuring an effective response.

The training week ended with an opportunity for all 56 Airmen to provide input for the after-action report.

“We encouraged the input from EM Airmen on how to make this a better week of training, so we’re ahead of the planning already for our next regional training in 2026,” said Bethke. “With this type of hands-on training, our Airmen are learning to be very agile. They will know what to do without hesitation when called upon by commanders or when they face challenges down range.”