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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Exercise Tests Mass Casualty Plan

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (AW) LaTunya Howard, Navy Personnel Command Public Affairs

MILLINGTON, Tenn. (NNS) -- The Navy Casualty Assistance Division (N135C) conducted a mass casualty exercise at Naval Support Activity Mid-South Aug. 4-6 to test its responsiveness to an actual event and its integration with the Reserve Forces.

The exercise scenario had a forward-deployed destroyer lose communications with National Command Authority while traveling in the Sea of Japan. An observation helicopter from a nearby carrier flew over the last known location of the destroyer and reported seeing lifeboats, wreckage, debris and bodies in the water. A crew of 147 were classified as "whereabouts unknown."

"Innately the Navy knows how to respond to an emergency, but we have to actually respond," said Capt. Erick Gerdes, commanding officer, Navy Reserve Task Force Casualty. "That is why these types of exercises are important. Our active component, which we are tasked to support, has never really tested us or checked us for mission readiness. So we diverge in a mission setting and the Navy Reserve seeks to verify that we are proficient at our jobs and efficiently serving our Sailors."

The chief of naval personnel is responsible for providing casualty assistance to survivors, family members of deceased, unaccounted-for, seriously injured, very seriously injured or seriously ill Sailors. Official communication comes to families through an assigned casualty assistance calls officer (CACO).

"CACOs are the life-ring for survivors who suddenly find themselves confronted with the loss of a loved one," said Sandy Dubois, program manager for Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC). "Adding to their grief, survivors often find themselves overwhelmed with paperwork and faced with making multiple decisions. The CACO helps to guide and support survivors throughout the initial stages of this life changing event."

Navy Mass Casualty Assistance Operations is coordinated by N135C, supported by CNIC's regional casualty assistance calls/funeral honors support (CAC/FHS) program managers and Navy Casualty Reserve Component.

A key goal of the exercise and real-life events is to keep strong communications between N135C and the regional casualty program managers. If a region is heavily impacted in a disaster or tragedy, additional support comes through N135C's Reserve component.

"We are very actively integrated in the Navy Casualty mission," said Gerdes. "We participated in various aspects of the exercise. The nuances have changed, the technology has changed. We must test and check how we are going to serve with our active component. That's really our primary goal."

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