Photo Information

U.S. Marines with Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VMX 1) remove a window during a mishap training at Wilmington International Airport in Wrightsboro, North Carolina, Dec. 14, 2023. Marines with Marine Corps Air Station New River and VMX 1 integrated with civilian first responders from New Hanover County to conduct a military aircraft mishap training to enhance emergency response skills between civilian and military first responders. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alyssa J. Deputee)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Alyssa Deputee

United Response: Marine and civilian first responders enhance emergency response skills through interagency training

19 Dec 2023 | Maj. Ryan Powers Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune

With military aircraft regularly training in the skies over Wilmington, North Carolina, more than a dozen local civilian and military first responder agencies came together with the Marines of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River and Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VMX 1) to train for emergency response to military aircraft mishaps.

While MCAS New River has held similar events in Jones County and Bladen County, this interagency training was the first of its kind in Wilmington. According to Kert Lang, emergency manager, MCAS New River, the exercise would not have happened without the support and cooperation of local civilian partners.

“New Hanover County Emergency Management is the one responsible for getting all these agencies here,” said Lang. “They’d already been pretty clear that if we ever had the chance [for training], they would love it.”
Participating agencies trained with the Marines of VMX 1 and MCAS New River on the CH-53K King Stallion helicopter. Though Marines train daily for emergency response to incidents with military aircraft, civilian agencies don’t have the same opportunity. While mishaps are rare, chances are that civilian first responders will be the first on scene for any incident outside of a military installation, so training opportunities with military aircraft are vital. Knowledge and familiarization with the aircraft and other military-specific challenges enhance first responders’ ability to succeed in their mission.

Chief Todd Kuna of the Wilmington International Airport Fire Department summarized the objective of hosting the training at the airport saying, “My goals were to get my personnel, county fire and related entities some good hands-on training with military aircraft, so if we do have an event with a military aircraft, we’ll be able to handle it in a better manner.”
Jason Fuller, a senior emergency specialist for operations at New Hanover County Emergency Management noted that interagency collaboration has broader benefits to the greater New Hanover County community.

“When you see larger incidents like [Hurricane] Florence and other catastrophes, generally the military will have resources that are very applicable to helping us in day-to-day handling of community needs,” said Fuller. “So, for us, having that connection with the military prior to an emergency is going to make us have those resources when we need them.”

By the end of the day, first responders, both Marine and civilian alike, had not only conducted valuable training to enhance their emergency response techniques such as aircraft entry, passenger and crew triage, and evacuation, but also made valuable community connections for future partnerships.

Maj. Lee Henderson, aviation maintenance officer at VMX 1 underscored the importance of the collaborative military and civilian emergency response training. “I think it’s good to interface with the local community,” said Henderson. “It’s super valuable to be able to bring an actual helicopter out here and allow these [agencies] to get hands on, face-to-face contact, because ultimately what we’re trying to do here is save lives.”

In addition to the above agencies, participants included the Wilmington Fire Department, Wilmington Police Department, New Hanover County Fire Rescue, New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, Wilmington International Airport Fire Rescue, Surf City Volunteer Fire Department, United States Coast Guard, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune Provost Marshal’s Office and Fire and Emergency Services Department, and the MCAS New River Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting.

Set your own course through any hazard: stay informed, make a plan, build a kit. Live Ready Marine Corps.