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Joint Base Andrews Features

NEWS | April 6, 2011

Black Flag participants train to be ready, always

By Senior Airman Melissa V. Brownstein 11th Wing Public Affairs

Fire fighters arrive at the commissary. Barely able to see their hands in front of their faces, the firemen prepare themselves for the task ahead. With smoke pouring out of the once marketplace, a smoldering pile of rubble is the only barrier between these saviors and the potential victims inside. Are there people alive in there? After plotting entrance and exit paths, the rescue workers begin their mission. The search for victims and hazards begins.

This scenario is just one of many which participants of exercise Black Flag 2011 encountered in a week of intense training. Exercise Black Flag 2011, or Black Flag, is an annual Air Force District of Washington training exercise where base fire department, emergency management and bioenvironmental agencies practice their response-skills together. The instructor pool for Black Flag is made of members of each participating agency, both military and civilian, who teach the two week-long exercise.

"It's the annual AFDW CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear or High-Yield Explosive) exercise where the CBRNE Response Force (CRF) is able to hone their knowledge and response skills at the Center for National Response in Gallagher, Wv. In these realistic scenarios, rescue workers are trained to use actual CBRNE and TIC/TIM (Toxic Industrial Chemical/Toxic Industrial Materials) agents and radiological sources," said Sam Hunt, Air Force District of Washington emergency management member and Black Flag 2011 cadre. "Participants get away from the office for a week and they train with the different functional areas of the CRF so they become a more cohesive team and improve response capability."

Black Flag is held annually at the CNR, a state-of-the-art- weapons of mass destruction/counter terrorism training, exercise, and operational equipment testing and evaluation facility. On site, the CNR has exportable programs for the Department of Defense, federal, state and local response units.

The CNR is owned and operated by the Nation Guard Bureau's Joint Interagency Training and Education Center. It offers several different types of training scenarios such as bunker and cave areas, as well as chemical, biological and drug laboratory scenes. The CNR can also equip participants with egress and confined space, highway HAZMAT (Hazardous Material), post blast rubble area and subway area training.

Black Flag also offers participants an opportunity to train in situations that are close to real world as possible.

"Normally in exercises they'll flip over a toddler-driving car and have you to try to imagine it being a 1,600 gallon tanker," said Senior Airman Christopher Kurban, 779th Aerospace Medicine Squadron (AMDS) bioenvironmental technician. "Here, they use real chemicals and real buildings. I think that is really awesome and a great way to get practice, especially for people who have never done this in real life."

Afterward, cadre and participants from all agencies have a 'hot wash,' where they discuss what was done correctly, where the team could improve, and alternative ways to accomplish the tasks at hand.

"This training has been phenomenal because we were able to respond with our partners," said Major Michael Fea, 779th Aerospace Medicine Squadron bioenvironmental flight commander. "This helps us understand and appreciate the capability that the CBRNE-response force brings to Joint Base Andrews. Bioenvironmental gets to go out with our fire and emergency management colleagues and see what the incident commander does. We get to see what they're trying to achieve and how we might be able to help them. This exercise puts everything together to give you that CBRNE capability that you really need for an emergency response."

While much of the five day exercise is spent working as one team, the fire department also practices high angle auto extrications, which includes repelling down a steep hill; rescuing someone out of a manhole; and much training in a confined, dark space.

"Black Flag provides realistic training that the fire department normally wouldn't receive back on Joint Base Andrews, "said Technical Sgt. Corey Blakely, 11th Civil Engineer Squadron fire department assistant chief of training. "With us having such a unique mission at home, training sometimes has to get halted and pushed back, so being up here for a week gives us that quality training time in a quality venue."

During the training week much was learned by exercise participants. For Airmen who are new to their jobs, like Airman 1st Class Bruce Owen, the training was a huge success.

"I now understand a lot of the capabilities of bioenvironmental and emergency management and what they do," Airman Owen said. "I didn't really have that much HAZMAT experience coming here and then when I got to Black Flag, I quickly learned how everything works and how all the missions come together to coordinate an effective attack."

Even the Black Flag cadre was able to take away some new ideas and techniques from the exercise that they can bring back to their units.

"I was able to see how Joint Base Andrews and the Air Force responded during a crisis," said Army Sergeant 1st Class Francisco Campos, Pentagon Force Protection Agency CBRNE specialist. "During Black Flag, I have learned different techniques that I now can not only bring back to share with the Pentagon, but also will be able to use within the Army."

Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Yang, Air Force District of Washington exercise and plans office exercise planner, played a large role in putting together this year's exercise.

"You could see vast improvement from the participants from day one to day five of Black Flag," said Sergeant Yang. "As the scenarios built up, so did the participant's CRF skills."

Although there was much success in this year's exercise, Black Flag coordinators are always looking for more ways to improve hazard training. Whether it's providing new or updated equipment or coming up with different scenarios, the Air Force District of Washington's Exercise and Plans office will continue to teach and improve their training abilities year after year.