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Seabees Join National Guard During RIMPAC Exercise

BELLOWS AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii -- A small detachment of Seabees joined a specialized team of Hawaii National Guard Soldiers and civilian urban search-and-rescue (USAR) experts, July 17-19, for an exercise demonstrating lifesaving and construction skills during the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2012 exercise.

The exercise involved the first operational test of the new cloud-based Glimpse initiative, a National Geospatial Intelligence Agency program that provides operation commanders live video streams transmitted by geo-tracked Android-based devices from the field.

Nine members of Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit (CBMU) 303 integrated with Hawaii Army National Guard Chemical, Biological Radiological and Nuclear Enhanced Response Force Package Task Force (HING CERFP) Soldiers from Alpha Company, 29th Brigade Special Troops Battalion to form two teams during the search and rescue exercise. The Seabees, who do not typically receive the kind of specialized medical and rescue training the HING CERFP Soldiers do, contributed their heavy equipment and manpower to a simulation involving people scattered throughout, and buried within, a rubble pile.

"The Seabees are using their skill set, being able to work construction and equipment, and working side-by-side with the National Guard, who have received the training actually going into confined spaces, using different types of shoring, the use of ropes and pulleys and blocking; a lot of that is new stuff that we don't deal with," said Equipment Operator 1st Class Dan Lasich, Seabee mission commander during the search and rescue training exercise. "So, we got to take our normal skill sets, and our knowledge of tools and equipment, and apply it to a search-and-rescue type scenario."

Members of a National Geospatial Intelligence Agency team were testing the hand-held, tablet-based Glimpse initiative for the first time in an operational military setting during this exercise. Glimpse operators provided a near real-time view of the disaster scene to the command center at Ford Island Navy Base on the other side of Oahu, Hawaii, by transmitting live video over the local cellular network.

"We were trying to close a capability gap of communications during a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief event, and this venue provided the perfect opportunity for us to test our solution to that problem," said Lt. Col. Trina Patterson, Associate Deputy for Experiments and Demonstrations with the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency's Military Support Readiness division. "It provides better situational awareness for commanders and decision makers so that they understand the relevance of what's happening on the ground."

Glimpse operators accompanied the advanced echelon (ADVON) team who first to assessed the affected area and provided information to CRAFP commanders who made decisions about what resources to use in their response. ADVON teams can be comprised of Seabee engineers, corpsmen, civil affairs personnel and combat camera photographers, and are usually sent to a disaster area first to communicate with commanders. However, this ADVON team used the Glimpse initiative to feed live video in addition to more traditional radio communication.

"Communication and imagery is our thing because we need to send information back to the main body to show them, to paint the picture for them, and recommend things from a perspective on the ground of what needs to happen," said Lt. John Daly, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Hawaii, staff engineer augmentee, and leader of the ADVON team at the search-and-rescue exercise.

The exercise was part of the larger, week-long humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) training event which started July 16. It is the first of its kind within the biennial RIMPAC exercises to include partnership with civilian hospitals and medical centers, and training and certification for expeditionary forces to respond to foreign disasters as a Crisis Response Adaptive Force Package (CRAFP).

"It gives people a chance to learn more about each other's capabilities and interoperability, and to be able to put those learned practices into play for real world response to disaster situations," said Lt. Cmdr Patricia Serrano, RIMPAC HA/DR coordinator and deputy fleet surgeon for U.S. 3rd Fleet.

"The idea behind this was: let's practice this before the next disaster and hopefully what we learn and communicate to each other will help us be more efficient and effective in the future," said Capt. Michael Napolitano, HA/DR exercise commander and Expeditionary Training Group commanding officer.

Marines have conducted non-combatant evacuation training exercises in the past, even as recently as this year in California, but those pre-deployment exercises involved single Marine units, whereas the RIMPAC HA/DR exercise involved coalition partner militaries from four countries, 23 Hawaiian medical facilities and more than 2,000 participants.

RIMPAC HA/DR exercise coordinators created a fictional island nation, represented by Hawaii, which suffered a catastrophe caused by a tsunami. They included coalition partner nations in the scenario so exercise participants would gain experience working in a more realistic, global environment.

A partially-collapsed two-story concrete building dominated the exercise site, with twisted metal protruding from the broken slabs. Seabees had used a front-end loader the day prior to bury several mannequins under concrete pieces weighing hundreds of pounds. A live role-player laid on the exposed second-story floor, while others laid within the collapsed structure, adding an even greater degree of realism to the scenario.

USAR designer and lead trainer, Vince Moffitt, said he structured the fictional scenario so that the Seabees and CERFP Soldiers were responding to a request for assistance from local fire and police agencies after they had evaluated the site. In reality, the military members were applying real search and rescue skills to recover live volunteers and mannequins placed throughout the site.

"If these guys came in to support an operation, the local resources would have already been overwhelmed," said Moffitt, "And with an incident command already set up, they would integrate with the organizational structure in place, and that's what we're simulating here."

The scenario allowed the Seabees and HING CERFP to conduct their mission within the exercise scenario while gaining real experience as a combined team.

"For Hawaii, because of their geography, if they have a true disaster such as a [cyclone] or a tsunami, and they need a response, the military is a perfect agency to be able to come and support them in that," said Serrano, "And building the communication bridges in advance, and the network, and getting to understand which agencies are going to be operating together -- it helps us prepare and advance our response."

Because of Hawaii's increased potential for natural disaster, HING maintains CERFP as a primary resource for emergency response.

"We are the state urban search and rescue team, there is no civilian one," said Capt. Aaron Blanchard, HING CERFP operations officer and officer in charge of the rescue mission here. "There is city and county fire department, of course, and local authorities, but at the state level, we're it."

HING CERFP members have all received advanced search and rescue training in addition to casualty decontamination, emergency medical and security training. The integrated training environment allowed the Seabees hands-on experience with rescue techniques that involved things like using block-and-pulley systems to extract a victim through a second-story window, and using custom-sized wood shoring to brace a collapsing doorway.

"This is a lot of new stuff for us that they've done and been through and so just breaking through a rock or working around some of these obstacles; it's wild just to see how they get a body out without further injuring it," said Equipment Operator 2nd Class Brian Krause, a member of CBMU 303 who experienced search and rescue for the first time.

The integrated teams were made up of at least three HING CERFP members and one Seabee, with the experienced Soldiers guiding the Sailors through the extraction steps.

"We practice these skills all the time so that in a real-world situation we won't get frozen up, and so we'll know what to do right on the spot," said Spc. Daysen Chang, a four-year veteran of the HING CERFP team. "Once we showed them how to do it, they caught on real quick and we clicked and got the victims rescued with no problems."

The Seabees contributed their construction experience to the rescue effort by coaching the Soldiers on building techniques and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) construction standards, and assisting with heavy lifting.

Seabees from CBMU 303 continue to participate in RIMPAC 2012 by providing combat-ready engineer forces that conduct contingency engineering and a wide range of construction planning and operational support to expeditionary ground forces.

The world's largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans. RIMPAC 2012 is the 23rd exercise in the series that began in 1971.

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