SPOKANE, Wash. – More than 70 Air National Guardsmen, stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base, are now training for how to respond to catastrophic events after spending one week on the ground in Oso.
The training is required every three years, but members of the Washington Air National Guard 141st Air Refueling Wing said their work in Oso is a good indication they are equipped for that type of response. But they said no pictures could prepare them for what they saw when they responded.
“It really hit home when it’s your state, places you’ve been, and actually seeing what it does to people,” search and extraction NCOIC Caleb Miller said. “You’re actually seeing the effect it’s got on families and the community.”
They said it was unlike anything they’ve experienced – even those who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. They were just happy to help Washington’s neighbors in need.
“It’s still nice to see that there are Washingtonians that were there to respond and help out,” Homeland Response Force search and extraction superintendent Jeff Barton said.
They said it was their duty to ease the pain for grieving families.
“It was primarily a recovery mission and we just wanted to pick up those momentos that we thought families would like,” Sr. Airman Nicole Holland said. “Pictures and any sort of family things that, if it was your family members, you would want to help save, too.”
“It was very difficult on-site,” Lt. John Zielinski said. “You could see it in the family members, the sadness. And we wanted to bring closure to the families.”