An update from our first day embedded with Virginia Task Force 1 – this ain’t the Ritz

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So, I’ll admit, as a city girl, I’ve never been camping. Don’t be so surprised.

For the next 3 days and nights, I will be embedded with Virginia Task Force 1, one of the most elite search and rescue crews in the world. They’ll be training on a series of unbelievably realistic simulated disasters. I can only tell you about today’s training, because they don’t want the crew to know what comes next.

A parking garage collapses in Canada. More than a dozen people are trapped. Slabs of concrete smashed upon cars, rubble everywhere you look. This is the mission of VA-TF1. To get everyone out. Dogs sniff out victims. Team members navigate the rubble and glass-sprinkled terrain, and pull out a live victim. Did I mention that volunteers, students and actors are strewn about the place as “victims” to make this rescue mission as realistic as possible.

This place that the crew has come to is called Guardian Centers and it’s located in Perry, Georgia. The crew has pitched tents to sleep in just like they would at a real disaster.

 

Photojournalist Kurt Brooks and I bought gear for our 4 day/ 3 night embed trip including a sleeping bag, pillow, and assorted clothes I’d need. Let me be clear, he needed next to nothing, I needed it all. The temperature in Perry, Georgia was down to the 40s. And I thought how the heck is this going to work. I made my way to the porta-potty to change into sweatpants and a fleece shirt. On my way, I saw a “vanity” compete with 2 sinks and 2 mirrors the crew had set up. Problem is the water wasn’t running yet so I washed my face with bottled water as best I could, took out my contacts and headed to our tent.

Any makeup you see on my face this week on TV was expertly applied at 6 am Monday morning. Thankfully, sunglasses and a hard hat hide a multitude of sins. There will be no shower today, but there was coffee. And water. And then I dug into the provisions I bought at Walmart: mini packages of peanut butter, Fiber One bars, and almonds. Breakfast this morning consisted of Nilla Wafers dipped in peanut butter. Believe me, if I could find a fruit or vegetable within the confines of the Guardian Center, I’d be thrilled.

I actually fell asleep quite easily, as Kurt had suspected. That’s what a 15 hour day will do. My 3 am wake up call came quickly. We went along with the blue team to an earthquake rescue in an office building, complete with live victims and mannequins. It’s a 12 hour exercise. Right now, it’s 10:22am and I’ve already worked about a full day. But, our day has just begun because as you know there are 24 hours in a day. We have a super-top-secret 11 am exercise – and then a 10 pm also super-duper- secret mission.

I am really enjoying this. Why? Because it’s important journalism. These men and women are highly trained and highly skilled and what they do saves lives. I am honored to tell their story.

Sleep? As Kurt says, we’ll sleep when we’re dead.

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