ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
For every disaster in America – natural or manmade – the Air National Guard stands ready to assist.
At Robins, there are Guard members serving in the 116th Medical Group who not only support home-station activities, but also ensure the wing’s military members are medically qualified to deploy in support of combatant commanders across the globe.
But there’s another aspect of the 116th MDG mission. It includes a contingency of nearly 50 medical personnel from across the state who form a detachment to support homeland defense.
“Both are no-fail missions. We can’t fail at supporting the homeland if they need us, and we can’t fail at supporting our wing in making sure they can perform their mission anywhere in the world,” said Col. Louis Perino, 116th MDG commander. An emergency medicine physician, he’s been part of the medical response mission for nine years.
Assisting the homeland is part of a new and evolving mission that has developed over the last dozen or so years, born out of lessons learned following disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the Oklahoma City bombings.
Doctors, nurses, physician assistants, medics and other public health and environmental engineering specialists across Georgia are part of a single detachment based out of Robins, one of 27 in the U.S., that makes up what’s known as a CBRN Enhance Response Force.
CBRN refers to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense, where protective measures are taken when hazards can be present.
There are 10 CERFs across the country that respond in the event of an emergency, such as a hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake or man-made disaster, Guard members can deploy as part of dedicated medical teams to lend a helping hand to civilian agencies.
“Our primary mission is to assist civil authorities,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Baffic, a 116th MDG emergency medicine physician assistant. “We save lives and mitigate suffering, primarily in response to a CBRN-type incident; however, we assist with natural disasters too.”
The Homeland Mission
The Robins detachment is part of the National Guard Homeland Response Force for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region IV, which includes the southeastern states of Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina. Its regional office is in Atlanta.
The main elements of a National Guard Joint (Army and Air Force) disaster response force includes not only search and extraction and decontamination teams, but also medical triage and stabilization teams.
Examples of defending a homeland mission include ready-to-assist teams on standby had Tropical Storm Hermine’s trek across the Florida panhandle and Georgia earlier this month brought widespread destruction.
Should unnatural disasters occur, say a CBRN incident where an explosion occurred at a major sporting event, calls for assistance would be made to assess radiation, and medical teams would deploy to the site.
Then there are the usual events that happen annually, like the Super Bowl and annual hurricane season preparations during the late summer months.
While circumstances for both may differ, teams can be prepositioned in advance of any pending disaster.
Teams were deployed in 2008, for example, at the Democratic National Convention at Invesco Field in Denver, Colorado.
Due to the event’s high visibility, CBRN Enhanced Response Force Package teams were in the field for over 24 hours, available in case of any civilian casualties due to an unexpected incident.
The 116th MDG’s medical detachment can deploy within six hours, and have an operational footprint of 72 hours prior to any state, regional or federal follow-on response.
They can assemble from Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta and Robins, with all medical equipment and response-ready trucks maintained at Dobbins.
“The primary mission of our detachment is to triage, stabilize and send patients out,” said Baffic. “We basically have in our critical care team everything you’d need just like in an emergency room.”
That includes caring for patients with any type of resuscitation needs, chest tubes and intubation procedures and defibrillation administration. Their equipment varies, from intraosseous needles to administer fluids in the bone and portable ultrasound machines, to high infusion pumps and medicines.
“In our inventory we are able to offer medicines to support a person in the very first few hours of their injury before they get to definitive care,” said Perino.
Including members of the 116th MDG, the overall HRF team has close to 600 people. All are HAZMAT certified, including the Respiratory Protection Program, a civilian program mandatory for all members since anyone has the potential to be exposed in a contaminated environment. The Respiratory Protection Program was recognized earlier this year at Robins for its efficiency and management.
Whether it’s joining engineering teams, search and extraction medics or a decontamination element at a disaster site, the medical response team from the 116th MDG are prepared for when the nation calls.
“We’re always ready to go,” said Baffic.