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Homeland Security

New York Army National Guard Division Mans Homeland Response Force Command Post

May 17, 2012
By Spec. J. P. Lawrence, New York Army National Guard

UTICA, N.Y. -- The scenario is as horrific as it is potentially tragic: what if terrorists attacked the United States with chemical weapons?

About 1,000 National Guard Soldiers, Airmen and New York Guard volunteers trained to respond to such a scenario at the Utica National Guard Armory as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency II Homeland Response Force validation training, May 16.

The FEMA II Homeland Response Force - which is a robust, specialized, rapid-response task force made up of National Guard Soldiers and Airmen to reinforce first responders in times of disaster - included members of the New Jersey, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands National Guards.

The Soldiers responsible for commanding and coordinating the activities of this multi-state force come from the New York Army National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division headquarters, based in Troy, N.Y.

The HRF supports civil authorities in response to Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) or Hazardous Material incidents that requiring the evacuation, decontamination and medical triage of casualties, and the 42nd Infantry Division Soldiers keep it all organized.

Army National Guard Major Maj. Aron Sacchetti, executive officer of the Command and Control Element of the HRF manned by the 42nd, helps the unit coordinate with civilians in the response to national disaster.

"We're working as the primary command and control unit here to ensure that we are able to recommend to the commander what our current status is here, how long we can continue to operate, and if we need anything," Sacchetti, a Troy, N.Y., resident, said.

The 42nd Soldiers have plenty of experience in dealing with domestic operations.

Until recently the division was responsible for manning the National Guard's eastern DART, or Domestic All-hazards Response Team. In 2011 division Soldiers responded when Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee caused major flooding in New York.

In 2005 the division headquarters deployed to Iraq where it was responsible for a 23,000-member task force in four Iraqi provinces.

If a disaster hits the FEMA area of New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico or U.S. Virgin Islands, the 42nd would establish the HRF command post and track the military units responding. This includes hourly reports on the supply, equipment and personnel levels of the military response. That information would go to the civilian in charge of the total efforts of the military and civilian first-responders.

"We provide that information to the civilian first responders who are controlling the overall response to make sure that he's got the information he needs to coordinate the efforts of the civilian and the military folks to deal with the situation as efficiently as possible," Sacchetti said, "because obviously, the goal is to save people's lives."

Components of this response have been tested in the world, but the process of combining disaster response with a traveling central command hub is brand new.

"This is all brand new, which helps with the excitement and the enjoyment -- the fact that we're building this program now," Sacchetti said. "We hope that we never have to use it in real life, and so far, we have not had to."

Sacchetti said the exercise has already helped them build relationships with civilian first responders, but he hopes to continue building relationships in the future in order to respond to the unthinkable.

"We're all very proud to be part of this mission," Sacchetti said. "We realize the seriousness of this and we take our training very seriously."

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