The Last Response
by TSgt. Brandon Boyd, 142nd Wing
Oregon Air National Guard
When one contemplates the military,
thoughts of guns, marches, pilots, or other emblematic images come
Other supporting roles like logistics, bringing
beans and bullets to the troops, possibly aircrew or administration
also make sense. The individuals who fulfill these roles provide a
logical extension to the day-to-day operations at the home front or
while deployed into harm’s way.
There is, however, one unique
role that seems grim but aligns with the ethos of the military:
never leave anyone behind. Bringing solace to those who have faced
loss and providing closure amidst a sea of grief are the defining
functions of this detail.
Services Airmen play a pivotal
role in helping military mortuary affairs, and these Air National
Guard Airmen fulfill a specific role in supporting civilian members
of our community in times of disaster as part of the Fatality Search
and Recovery Team or FSRT. This team exists to provide services to
those who have lost their lives.
A specialized group with expert-level
training, members often join with the state medical examiner’s
office to observe morgue operations, how remains should be collected
and forensically processed, and viewing how autopsies are handled.
This litmus test is coordinated to train Airmen before disaster
Members of the 142nd Wing's Fatality Search and Recovery Team (FSRT) in front of their work tent, while on mission in Albany, Oregon during the wildfire season of 2020. (Oregon Air National Guard 142nd Wing courtesy photo)
In the Oregon Air National Guard, the team
can activate to provide support in a state capacity, assisting the
governor in an emergency as part of the Chemical, Biological,
Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) Enhanced Response Force Package
(CERFP) or as a standalone group directly supporting the requesting
142nd Force Support Squadron commander, Lt. Col.
Kelly Barton remarked on how the partnership between FSRT and
civilian search and recovery teams enables a more efficient force.
“When we are activated, it is high stress. To know you will
walk in and have rapport, it means it is much faster to get the
mission started,” said Barton.
Members of the 142nd Wing FSRT
are often asked to provide support in difficult circumstances. In
the late summer of 2020, Oregon’s wildfires raged, causing
unprecedented damage and loss of life across the state. During this
time, the 142nd Wing FSRT was activated.
“We drove into
Albany and it was all ash and smoke. Our airmen got out of the
truck, built our tents and hustled…no task was too big or too small.
Whatever they needed to do to get the job done, they did,” said
At a central location to multiple wildfires
throughout the state, the team worked alongside the Oregon State
Police, Oregon Health Authority, FEMA, and the state medical
examiner’s office. As the fires worsened, some civilians in Southern
Oregon were unable to leave in time.
“After the Phoenix,
Oregon fire, we were planning for the possibility of hundreds of
casualties across the state and thankfully, that was not the case,”
The team was tasked with helping to receive and
identify those that perished, serving at the request of the governor
to help bring closure to the families of the deceased.
the forensic process, Barton said they helped identify remains and
confirm cause of death, collecting personal effects to assist with
Despite the difficult work, the relationships
the team had formed helped strengthen the resolve of these Citizen
“This group is not always nine-to-five in uniform,
but the camaraderie and the close-knit nature of the team provides a
sense of belonging,” said FSRT Officer in Charge (OIC), Capt. Miles
Described as approachable and relatable, this isn’t a
group seeking the limelight, but Dodge said they enjoy serving and
supporting others and bringing a positive energy when circumstances
As they worked, the state and the wing
brought chaplain and mental health support professionals to serve
alongside the responders. The team found respite when meeting
together in a tent, a safe space set up just beside the mobile
Capt. Angelica Hayes, former FSRT OIC, was activated
during the wildfire season of 2020 and recalls the value the
resiliency team brought to their fight.
“We debriefed and
let people share at their comfort level. One person would share what
they experienced, and others would share their own perspective or
how they processed things,” said Hayes.
together, playing games and discussing those difficult moments
helped the team come together.
“It was a really supportive,
trusting environment, where our folks could be vulnerable and
personal,” said Hayes.
As the group finished up their
two-week tasking and the wildfires began to scale back, the meaning
of their work came into focus. The group had made an impact, not
just to the community, but also to the professionals they worked
with. State officials recognized with admiration the ‘never-stop’
work ethic of the FSRT team.
“Looking back, the impact of the
mission keeps a lot of us fulfilled,” said Hayes. “We returned them
to their families, giving them the closure that they deserved.”
WWhen the worst days come, this band of last responders brings
dignity and respect to the members of our community. Although they
often evade the spotlight of formal recognition, their legacy and
work ethic showcases the essence of Oregonian identity.
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