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Washington Guard Works With Thai First Responders

By Army Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy
Special to American Forces Press Service

BANGKOK, May 19, 2009 – The National Guard’s State Partnership Program pairs up Guard members from every state with foreign countries to provide mentorship and training, largely focusing on military training. But one state has been working with its partner country to build on another aspect unique to the Guard: domestic response.

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A firefighter from the Port of Laem Chabang in Pattaya, Thailand, secures a hose fitting during a training exercise near the port, May 19, 2009. Members of the Washington National Guard have been training Thai first responders. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy

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Members of the Washington National Guard have worked with first responders from their partnership country, Thailand, to build on their skills in port security, fire fighting, search and rescue and command and control, said Maj. Wil Johnston, director of the Washington Guard’s State Partnership Program.

“The intent is to build their capacity to respond to a potential disaster that may or may not involve hazardous materials at the port,” he said. Then, he added, they can respond with fire fighting, medical response and command and control components.

Members of the Washington Guard normally visit Thailand several times a year to conduct this training, which culminates in a full-scale field training exercise. However, the goal is to sustain the training program within Thailand. That comes about by training the trainers there, said Johnston, who added that the aim is simply to be in an advisory status within two years and have the training conducted solely by Thai officials.

Already, the training that has been provided has had positive benefits. A recent event here brought out emergency response teams from the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, Thailand’s equivalent to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who brought with them skills on operating in confined spaces.

“We actually used the knowledge that we have from the training just days ago, when a building collapsed at the construction site of a new major cinema complex,” Ruamporn Kerdlarbpol, a senior plans and policy officer with DDPM, said through an interpreter. “A couple of people were trapped inside the building, and we sent our emergency response teams to the scene.

“Without the knowledge that we gained from Washington National Guard helping us with the training, we wouldn’t have been able to do the job properly and as easily as we did.”

Thailand’s emergency response teams were first formed two years ago, Kerdlarbpol said.

“We will be needing more techniques and expertise to help build the capacity of these ERTs to be much better,” she said. “We are looking to get more techniques in search and rescue, so we try and build our capacity based on our cooperation with the Washington National Guard.”

And while the ERTs have a similar role as the National Guard’s response to a similar disaster, there are differences.

“The complexity comes, because their organizational structure doesn’t necessarily mirror ours,” Johnston said. “So, who works for who may not be immediately clear.”

One of the ways around that complexity is to provide a system of response and command and control that is the same across the country, he said.

Much of the recent training has been with fire fighters and port officials at the port of Laem Chabang, about 100 miles south of Bangkok. It has stirred interest with other agencies within Thailand.

“The port of Bangkok is now very interested in seeing what the port of Laem Chabang is doing,” Johnston said. “They can then mirror that and eventually that will grow throughout the Marine Department and then throughout all of Thailand. Then there will be standard operating procedures.” Thailand’s Marine department oversees both ports.

But it’s not as easy as it sounds, especially when it comes to command and control.

“Obviously, the command and control piece of it is very broad,” Johnston said. It involves keeping the media informed, crowd control and using the incident command system, he said. While command and control is a complex issue, training on fire fighting and search and rescue techniques, he added, “is pretty straightforward.”

But it is all starting to come together.

“They’re doing a great job with the fire fighting, and they’re doing a good job with the port security, but it’s been a long time coming,” Johnston said.

(Army Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy serves at the National Guard Bureau.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Maj. Wil Johnston, director of the Washington National Guard's State Partnership Program, talks with an officer of Thailand's Marine Department police during a patrol of the Port of Laem Chabang in Pattaya, Thailand, May 19, 2009. Members of the Washington National Guard have been training Thai first responders. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy  
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