Photo by Emily Wood:
Soldiers test the hoses of one of the decontamination trucks at the National Guard Armory in Rocky Mount.
Friday, July 25, 2014
By EMILY WOOD - News-Post Intern
The local National Guard unit, the 229th CBRN Company, participated in a drill event last weekend at the Rocky Mount Armory to prepare for a training rotation in Fort Irwin, Calif., in September.
The rotation in Fort Irwin will be "a shift towards whatever comes next," said Capt. Brian Webb, commander of the local unit. "The National Training Center is the premiere training location for the U.S. military."
"We will go through the process of mobilizing just like if we were going overseas," said Webb. "We have to pretty much sustain ourselves, initially staying some days in tents and spending a total of two weeks camped out in the desert."
During regular training, soldiers are used to huge bases with showers and dining facilities, but September will be a lot more like active duty, Webb said.
"There will be over 1,000 role-players who will pretend to be foreign military and foreign civilians," he said. "They will have the same capabilities we have. It will be force-on-force rather than chasing 'terrorists' around."
The training will involve shooting blank guns with laser sensors.
"It will be a somewhat realistic environment," said Webb. "It's like laser tag on a much bigger scale."
The majority of the soldiers at the Rocky Mount Armory, including Webb, are part-time employees. The unit is about 60 percent male, 40 percent female.
Some of the soldiers are graduates of Franklin County High School, but the armory employs people from all over the state.
"People are typically clueless about what we do at the armory in Rocky Mount," said Webb. "In the National Guard here, we have 120 some soldiers who essentially, I like to say, 'play Army'."
The Rocky Mount unit was created in 1988 and is one of 33 of its kind in the country.
"We're pretty new, which means we're highly technical," said Webb. "We've never really been deployed. We've been on standby for home defense. We essentially run around and practice for what we will hopefully never have to do."
Originally from Richmond, Webb is a graduate of James Madison University. He has voluntarily been deployed on active duty to Afghanistan twice since entering the Guard 10 years ago.
The U.S. Army has now shifted its focus from the "War on Terrorism" to what soldiers would have to do in a combative war, Webb said.
CBRN companies are responsible for going into combat zones ahead of troops to decontaminate areas affected by chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear pollutants, Webb said. The soldiers use special equipment that detects contaminants through biosurveillance by "sniffing" the air for harmful elements, such as anthrax.
Their vehicles are equipped with pressure washers to eliminate the harsh chemicals.
Most of the equipment at the Rocky Mount Armory has never been used outside of Virginia, but it would be shipped out for use in combat in the event of a war.
The 229th Company also has to be on standby for disasters here at home, including chemical terrorist attacks and toxic commercial explosions or spills, Webb said.
"Our job is to mop it all up," he said. "The big picture is that we would be saving lives."
Soldiers in the unit from Franklin County include Zachary Miller, Matthew Mays and Timothy Rorrer of Boones Mill; William Hodges, Jamie Carr and Jarrett Hodges of Rocky Mount; and Ricky Mays of Ferrum.
When they aren't working in their biosurveillance platoon, SPC Zachary Miller is a frame welder at Plygem. SPC Matthew Mays is a student at Liberty University with a major in criminal justice, and SPC William Hodges is a communications dispatcher for Carilion. SSgt. Ricky Mays is a mechanic at Twin Rocks Automotive.
Outside their decontamination platoons, PFC Timothy Rorrer is a diesel mechanic and works for Roanoke City Fire and Rescue. SPC Sgt. Jamie Carr is the assistant wrestling coach at Ferrum College, and PFC Jarrett Hodges is a forklift operator for Eastman Chemical Company.