ROUND ROCK, Texas - The Texas National Guard is no stranger to international partnerships, sharing long working relationships with both Chile and the Czech Republic. Recently, though, members of Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade), a Round Rock-based National Guard unit, enjoyed a visit from a new foreign partner: the Exército Brasieiro, the Brazilian Army. The visit, conducted May 8th at the Round Rock Armed Forces Reserve Center, focused on sharing best practices during emergency response operations.
"The main objective is to learn about the program," said Maj. Anaditália Pinheiro Viana Araújo. "We are beginning our program in Brazil. We are looking for knowledge from different sources."
Araújo, a medical officer within the Exército Brasieiro, was joined by 1st Lt. Aline Campos Dias, who serves as a military doctor, and Sgt. 1st Class João Batista Júnior, a combat medic. With their specialty in patient care, learning how the National Guard approaches mass casualty incidents was a natural fit. Prior to meeting with JTF-136 (MEB), they toured the San Antonio Army Medical Center and the San Antonio Fire & EMS Department.
"It was wonderful," said Júnior. "You showed us how the military and the civilians can work together. That is fantastic for us. It would be nice if in the future, we could have the same structure.
JTF-136 (MEB), as custodian of the FEMA Region VI Homeland Response Force Mission, is uniquely qualified to discuss the role of interagency cooperation during emergency response operations. Their mission is, at the request of civil authorities, to directly support and reinforce the life-saving efforts of local first responders in a disaster engagement. Unlike the United States, Brazil's military forces serve as their first responders in combating natural and man-made threats.
"There, we are the first responder," said Júnior. "In Brazil, we are the only response that we have. We need to teach our people to do the same, to be prepared for some kind of threat and divide the responsibility with us."
On hand to share the National Guard support perspective was the 6th CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package, the life-saving element of JTF-136 (MEB)'s HRF mission. CBRNE refers to the increased threat of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive hazards during a mass-casualty incident that would require the specialized capabilities of military assets in supporting civilian first responders.
"As an element of the CBRNE mission, the 6th CERFP was delighted to entertain members of the Exército Brasieiro," said Lt. Col. Les Edwards, commander for the 6th CERFP. "Their visit allowed us an opportunity to positively influence our international partners as they develop their own emergency response management team."
Sharing their experiences and best practices helped bridge the gap between the two nations' armies, fostering trust and confidence as they discussed how best to approach their respective life-saving missions.
"It is always interesting to discuss the civil-military relationship that exists in the United States with representatives from other countries, like Brazil, and compare and contrast the two systems," said Maj. Patrick Nolan, the training officer for JTF-136 (MEB). "Only by understanding such things can we communicate an understanding of how missions like the Homeland Response Force actually work."
Communication was a key theme throughout the tour, as Guard personnel shared with the Brazilian delegation the equipment and techniques that allow them to work fluidly with their civil partners.
"The main equipment that we need is the communication equipment to integrate the people we have," said Dias. When asked what the best capability they could gain in Brazil would be after meeting their US counterparts, she responded, "the possibility to have communications with people who are in the hot zone and people who are in the cold or warm zone."
These zones refer to the varying levels of contamination that make up a CBRNE situation. The hot zone represents the greatest contamination threat when rescuers are already working to save lives from rubble and debris. The threat of such hazards is especially relevant for the Brazilian army as they prepare to host the World Cup later this year and the Olympics in 2016. Security and safety preparations will be tantamount during these high-profile events.
"These are the kind of events in the United States that the National Guard would be called on to support with capabilities like the Civil Support Team," said Nolan. "They are just now developing those capabilities in Brazil and today's visit is especially important for them."
The members of JTF-136 (MEB) look forward to continuing this relationship with their Brazilian counterparts and furthering their emergency response program. For them, it's not about the uniforms worn, it's about the lives saved when disaster strikes.
"The more we share best practices," said Edwards, "the better equipped they will be to answer the call when it comes."