Soldiers assigned to the California National Guard’s 149th Chemical Company deployed to train at the CDP for two weeks in January, training that helped them to better prepare for both their military mission and their civil support mission.

As part of their civil support mission, the 149th’s soldiers are members of the CBRNE-Enhanced Response Force Package (CERF-P). The CERF-P team is part of the Federal response team that falls under the National Guard Bureau and works with the various FEMA regional offices, explained Staff Sgt. John Austin, the noncommissioned officer in charge.

The soldiers took both the Emergency Responder Hazardous Materials Technician for CBRNE Incidents course (ERHM) and the Hazardous Materials Technician for CBRNE Incidents course (HT), both of which will help them in their military and civil support duties.

In the five-day ERHM course, the soldiers received hands-on training in identifying hazardous materials, using advanced surveying and monitoring equipment. They also learned to perform decontamination procedures, all of which helped to prepare them for the ProBoard exam.

“On the military side of it, this brings us about 95 percent complete with our certifications,” explained Sgt. Sara Brown, who serves as the unit’s training, logistical and administrative specialist for their CERF-P mission. Brown explained that their proficiency levels go from the awareness- to operator- to technician-level. “Technician is the highest level that we can get. This training helps us to prepare for our ProBoard certifications. So aside from a couple of individual requirements, this is all the training we need.”

Brown and her fellow soldiers took the ProBoard exam through the Alabama Fire College the end of their first week of training. “The class helped with a portion of the test, but we had to go research some of it on our own.” Brown, a Sonora, Calif. native, is a return CDP student. She took the CDP’s Respiratory Protection: Program Development and Administration course last year.

During their second week of training, in the five-day HT course, the soldiers participated in hands-on training that taught them to respond to incidents involving a chemical, biological or radiological incident, as well as to extricate and decontaminate survivors of such an incident. The soldiers finished off their fast-paced training week by testing their skills in the Chemical, Ordnance, Biological, and Radiological Training Facility (COBRATF), the nation’s only toxic-chemical training facility dedicated solely to training the nation’s emergency responders. The HT course helped the soldiers prepare for their civil support mission, according to Spc. Michael Garber, the load-out and maintenance specialist for the unit’s CERF-P mission.

“This course is really in-depth with the monitoring for radiological sources and gases,” Garber, a Stockton, Calif., native, explained. “It really focused on why we do it. This training will really help us to perform our mission.

“For many of us, this is a really in-depth refresher. Some of these soldiers have not been to training in five years, so the practical applications are a good hands-on refresher.”

“We are always told ‘This is how you do it,’ but not so much ‘This is why and this is what to look for,’ Brown explained. “So this training is very beneficial in those aspects.”

For Austin, the senior noncommissioned officer in the group, this is his first CDP course; however, he trained at the some of the CDP’s facilities before. Austin joined the Army after completing ROTC. In 1987, he trained at the U.S. Army Chemical Defense Training Facility,that is now the CDP’s COBRATF.

While Austin, also a Stockton native, will retire from the Army soon, he said the training will benefit him in his civilian job, as well. Austin serves as the Senior Emergency Planner for the San Joaquin County (Calif.) Office of Emergency Services. He has also worked as a hazardous materials specialist.

“Because I was a HAZMAT specialist, I have been involved in many different types of HAZMAT situations from waste oil spills on down,” he said. “Just in my county alone, we have lots of opportunities for HAZMAT materials incidents: interstates, railroads and an inland seaport. We also have a chlorine facility and an anhydrous ammonia storage facility.”

Brown, looking at CDP classes from her role as the unit’s training specialist, was already thinking of other CDP courses that would benefit her unit and other units.

“I would absolutely recommend CDP training,” she said. “The CDP has a bunch of different courses here. So, depending on what the unit’s specific mission is, I’m sure they would find a course that’s beneficial to the unit as a whole.

Garber, who has taken other CDP courses, said the CDP is a good environment for their training.

“The [CDP] teachers having the experience,” Garber said. “There’s a difference between a teacher who’s taught stuff, but who hasn’t actually done it in a real-world application. I’m pretty sure all of our instructors have been through it all in the real world numerous times. They take their personal experiences and integrate it into their teaching to make it an enjoyable class.”

Under Title 32 (state support) mission, National Guard soldiers and airmen are eligible to attend fully funded training at the CDP. The Department of Homeland Security funds the training, the student’s travel, lodging and meals.