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Face of Defense: Soldier Practices Search, Extraction

By Army Sgt. Dani Salvatore 27th Public Affairs Detachment


CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind., August 6, 2014 — On a hot Saturday afternoon, Army Pfc. Erica Haynes of the Alabama National Guard’s 440th Chemical Company skillfully maneuvers over the debris of a collapsed structure, searching for survivors of a simulated nuclear explosion.

This Aug. 2 search and extraction exercise was the first training session for her unit at Vibrant Response 14 at the Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center here.

Vibrant Response is a U.S. Northern Command-sponsored, U.S. Army North-led field training exercise for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive consequence management forces. It is designed to improve their ability to respond to catastrophic incidents.

“Is anybody in here?” Haynes called out as she struggled to find her footing on the unstable rubble. “Is anybody in here?”

On a hunch that someone could be trapped inside the structure below her, Haynes grabbed a large plank and began pounding the surface beneath her.

“Can you hear me?” she exclaimed. “If you can, knock back!”
A muffled reply from below cried out for help. Haynes was prepared to do whatever it took to rescue the survivor.

Search and extraction is her favorite skill to perform, she said.

“You have to think off the top of your head, and you never know what to expect,” she explained. A survivor’s injuries and the integrity of the structure can complicate the extraction, she added, thus requiring a great deal of thought and skill to perform the rescue.

“Are you hurt?” Haynes called out to the role-playing survivor trapped below her. The survivor’s right leg was injured, and he was unable to move it. Because he couldn’t move, Haynes and her team were unable to cut through the structure to perform the rescue without risking further injury to the survivor.

This situation did not discourage Haynes, and she began searching for another way to extract the survivor.

“The first time I met her, we were at training for search and extraction -- the same thing we are doing here today,” said Army Spc. Shanieka Abney an Alabama Guardsman with 690th Chemical Company‘s Task Force 46. “Nothing stops her. She was injured and still pushing on.”

Haynes and her team maneuvered around the structure to a tunnel that might offer access to the trapped survivor.

“Confined search and extraction can be challenging,” she said. “Small spaces limit the types of equipment that can be used, and rescuers do not have much room to maneuver.”

A soldier from Haynes’ team went into the tunnel in attempt to reach the survivor. As her teammate crawled through the opening to the tunnel, Haynes offered coaching and encouragement.

“Watch your leg on those wires,” she said. “There you go. You got it.”

In addition to her team’s safety, the survivor’s safety was a constant concern, Haynes said. One way to ensure survivors’ safety is to “package” them properly for extraction, she explained, a task she said is her strongest skill.

Various techniques and equipment can be used in extractions, she said, and using the method most appropriate for the scenario is vital to ensure the safety of the survivor and her rescue team.

But despite her team's efforts in the tunnel, they did not reach the survivor, so Haynes huddled with her team to consider additional strategies.

“She is highly motivated,” Abney said. “She doesn’t give up, and she won’t quit.”