By Spc. Jesse Elbouab, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
LEXINGTON, Ky.--In a time of war, and in time of peace, a valuable asset to any organization is preparedness. The Kentucky National Guard takes this statement to heart.
Being ready to respond, assist, and communicate in a crisis is a primary focus in many drilling tasks of the KYNG.
On Sept. 10, the KYNG emergency response team met with Blue Grass Airport’s first responders and practiced preparedness by answering the call to a fake accident staged on the WestLex runway at the Lexington airport. With many possible what-if scenarios, this training focused on how the team would respond to a collision involving civilian and military aircraft.
"Our guys were prepared, and we responded rather quickly," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michelle Ewers, aviation safety officer for the KYNG. "The exercise allowed us to practice all of our procedures, talk about what worked, and what we will improve so we are even better equipped next time. We always want to better ourselves so we can be ready if this were to happen in real life."
To fill ranks in a rapid response team, the Kentucky Guard trains additional Soldiers who typically may not work in emergency management.
Some Soldiers working full time at the Boone National Guard Center in Frankfort train to respond to emergency events regardless of their day-job title. This strategy is necessary to respond simultaneously and effectively to multiple crises around the commonwealth.
"This training event was first scheduled back in April," said Staff Sgt. Austin Lynn, a Flight Operations non-commissioned officer with the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade and flight operations specialist for the Blue Grass Airport. "Of course, COVID-19 happened, and everything got pushed back. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) still requires us to do this kind of training, so we are making our best attempt to do so."
For the emergency simulation, a Bombardier CRJ-900, a commercial passenger aircraft, collided with a UH-72 Lakota, a Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) owned by the Kentucky Guard. It forced emergency response teams to react. Initially, they would have used real aircraft, and several actors would have simulated pilots and passengers. Restrictions raised from the pandemic, so the mission scaled back for the safety of the participants. Instead of the plane, two shuttle busses, loaded down with dummy passengers, displayed casualties with various injuries and status levels.
The first to arrive at the fake crash site was the Blue Grass Airport emergency response team. Driving their firetrucks to the scene, these professionals offered airport security, fire, and EMS support. They can do it all. They extinguished a small (controlled) fire, then searched for survivors and began assessing injuries by precedence. On the dummies were cue cards with written injuries sustained. Besides conducting triage to the mannequins, one additional task given to the crew was to extract a Kentucky National Guard pilot from the helicopter and tend to his injuries while on site.
Simultaneously, the emergency response team from the KYNG reacted to their alert and flew into action. Staged at the Boone National Guard Center in Frankfort, this emergency crew packed up what equipment they needed and brought it to Lexington on a UH-60 Blackhawk.
Once on the scene, the team secured the area around the downed military craft and assessed the situation.
This scenario differed from most real-world situations because it took place in a controlled environment with already limited public access.
"We are also trained and prepared to set up security and help to the pilots and crew," said Lt. Col. Adam Kearney, commander of the AASF. "Since the airport's team already did that, we moved on to conduct a damage assessment of the KYNG aircraft and determined whether we could fly it back. If not, we would need to know to bring more heavy equipment or a maintenance team. Throughout the response, we secured the area, took photos of the damage, and provided support to the airport's accident investigation."
The National Guard requires this training once a year to ensure our Soldiers are ready at a moment's notice.