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Operation Callaghan

FRESNO AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Calif. -- On an early July morning, a caravan of six white pick-ups towing equipment trailers, baring red cross symbols, pull out of the Fresno Air National Guard Base, followed by a passenger van. The Medical Group of California's Homeland Response Force is travelling north. Their mission for this deployment is to participate in an exercise that simulates a terror attack resulting in mass casualties.

Members of the 144th Medical Group and HRF participated in Operation Callaghan at Alameda, Calif. July 13.  Operation Callaghan was an exercise of a simulated chemical disaster aboard the Navy vessel USS Admiral WM. M. Callaghan. The California Army and Air National Guard participated in the exercise by providing security, decontamination and medical care to the injured. Two Nigerian military officers observed the exercise for the State Partnership Program.

"The Homeland Response force is a tier one asset to the governor of California. So basically if something were to happen, like for example today we have [simulated] attacks on the Admiral Callaghan, and it has overwhelmed the local civilian hospitals first responders, so a state of emergency was declared," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Chance Pasley, 144th HRF Plans Officer. "We are an asset that can show up and bring a force to respond to an emergency.

We can respond to such things as wild fires and terrorist attacks, as a matter of fact they used one of the Homeland Response Force during the Washington mudslides."
Setting up the medical facility on a pier created an unusual environment. 

"Today's exercise is definitely a great opportunity, this is the first time we have had to respond to this type of incident, being that it actually on a Navy vessel," Pasley said. "It is a very constrained environment, typically in the past we have trained with large football field size area. We had to consolidate our plan, we have all of our treatment folks in one tent, as well as decontamination and search and extraction everything has had to be consolidated."

Inside, the hull of USS Admiral WM. M. Callaghan caused its own set of unique problems for the search and extraction teams. "My role as a search & extraction medic, is to go in with the search and extraction team and make sure that the patients that are still down there are taken care of medically, and help them figure out the best way to get these patients from the bottom of the ship to the top of the ship," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. .Eliza Villa, 144th HRF. "

The biggest challenge for us is that this is the first time we have done this type of mission in a ship, so we were assessing the inside and there are very steep angles and stairways that we are really going to have to utilize different equipment to get the patients to safety."

Casualties were simulated their injuries and screamed as if they were in pain. Many of the actors wer  in full make-up and moulage, "One of the biggest things I have learned is the seriousness in the exercise; it really looks real," said Nigerian Navy Cmdr. Uchenna Ifeoma Okeke, medical radiologist. "They are doing it in such a way that you really feel that something like this has happened. I am really impressed with that." Okeke was one of two Nigerian military officers observing the exercise for the State Partnership program.

"The Nigerians are here today to see best practices when it comes to disaster preparedness and emergency management," said U.S. Army Capt. Chiddy Adighije, Joint Force Headquarters Nigerian desk officer. "The State Partnership program, specifically with Nigeria, has been in effect since 2006. We have been primarily focusing on disaster preparation and military intelligence. It is not a training program, but more of an exchange of information, a best practices, we do with the Nigerians from time to time."

The Nigerians military officers were free to ask questions and learn all they could from the exercise.  "The experience here today has been really worthwhile," Okeke said. "A lot of knowledge has been gained. What I have learned today has improved my knowledge on critical care management of casualties. I will remember all I have learned, review [her notes] when needed and apply them to help the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian medical profession as a whole."