ONG HRF member welds while others watch.

Photos by Photo by Master Sgt. Joseph Harwood, 179th Airlift Wing

Soldiers of the Ohio Homeland Response Force (HRF) Search and Extraction team, perform training exercises while mobilized to a location in the area surrounding Washington D.C., Jan. 22, 2021, after being activated by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to support the 59th Presidential Inauguration. The HRF’s capabilities include decontamination, search and extraction, medical triage, and command and control functions to support civil authorities during large-scale events, disasters or emergencies.

Ohio Homeland Response Force supports 59th Presidential Inauguration in historic activation

Video by Sr. Master Sgt. Ralph Branson, 121st Air Refueling Wing

Story by Master Sgt. Joseph Harwood, 179th Airlift Wing

COLUMBUS, Ohio (01/23/21)

As the nation prepared for the 59th Presidential Inauguration during a heightened security threat, a dedicated group of National Guard members answered the call to be always ready and always there.

The Ohio National Guard Homeland Response Force (HRF) was mobilized for the first time in its nearly 10-year existence to a location in the area surrounding Washington D.C. on Jan. 16, after being activated by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to support the existing forces in that area.

The HRF, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, supports the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 5 (covering six Midwestern states), and specializes in saving lives and reducing human suffering during a natural, man-made or terrorist incident in the United States. HRF capabilities include decontamination, search and extraction, medical triage, and command and control functions to support civil authorities. When directed by the secretary of defense, coordinated by the chief of the National Guard Bureau, and upon the consent of the governor during major or catastrophic Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) incidents, the HRF can deploy within six hours.

In this historic mobilization, the HRF was called to supplement FEMA Region 3 (covering five Mideastern states and the District of Columbia), in case should any large-scale incident occurred in the D.C. area in the days leading up to and through the inauguration.

“The Homeland Response Force mission to assist and support civilian authorities is a critical mission. We provide specialized skills and teams that enhance their existing capabilities,” said Col. Kevin W. Lochtefeld, Ohio HRF commander. “The HRF Region 5 is an extremely professional organization. This was the first deployment of HRF Region 5 and we responded outside of our assigned region. I’m honored to serve and deploy with these dedicated Soldiers and Airmen that responded when called to support the inauguration. I’m very proud of what we learned and what we accomplished on this mission.”

While a historic number of National Guard members from Ohio and across the country supported a safe transition of power in the nation’s capital, only a select few prepare for the unknown like the HRF.

Maj. Jonathan Shaw, operations officer in charge of the Ohio HRF, has 10 years experience with the HRF and said each activation is extremely valuable to the unit’s training.

“Every time you train with the HRF, you train to a standard,” Shaw said. “The way you do that is you create standard operating procedures so that when you get activated you can actually test those SOPs from the training standard and expose them for what they are. Then after the real-world event we can go back and refine those SOPs and train again so we’ll be better the next time we’re activated.”

Command Sgt. Major William Adams, HRF senior enlisted advisor, related the mission of the HRF with the mission of the Ohio National Guard.

“Our mission is synonymous with the National Guard, when called we respond with ready units.” Adams said. “I could not be any prouder of our Soldiers, our Airmen, their families and their employers. The teamwork that’s involved with this activation and mobilization — it takes a team. From the short notification, to the assembly and response time to the region, we could not do it without the total team. Safety of the transfer of power for the inauguration could not be had without all of that support.”

The 21st century tragedies of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill highlighted the importance of being proactive in preparation, as well as efficient and effective in the incident response. The HRF is designed to improve National Guard mobilization methods and to continue improving as they evolve and expand relating to homeland defense.

Lt. Col. David Mason Jr., deputy commander of the Ohio HRF, was one of the first members of the HRF when it stood up several years ago, and has experience with those events that indicated the need for a unit like the HRF.

“This a great opportunity to culminate all of the training we’ve had to get us to this point. I feel fortunate to be standing here as someone who watched us become one of the first validated and now to see us respond to the first activation,” Mason said. “Unfortunately, we never want to put our training to use, but we were ready and we came here ready to do whatever we needed to do.”

While the HRF did not have to respond to any crisis during this activation, unit members’ efforts in the planning, preparation, deployment and execution of their assigned mission in a real-world response provided more valuable experience.

Spc. Rachael Price, with the HRF search and extraction team, is a traditional National Guard Soldier who typically serves one weekend a month. The rest of the time, she teaches high school math to ninth- and 10th-graders in the Cincinnati Public Schools district.

“I was teaching an online class when I got the call. I was told we’d be leaving the very next day. It was near the end of the day and I didn’t get a chance to talk to (the students), but I left them a note with the substitute. I’ve gotten a few messages from them telling me to be safe and they’re excited for when I get to come back!”

Price explained that despite not having to respond to any incident while activated, the experience felt different than any of her previous training.

“The speed of it felt different. Making sure we had everything that we needed before heading out because you knew this could be the real deal. I definitely feel like it’s left us better off to respond to future incidents — we know what to expect. Since we didn’t have to respond we got to do some training, to refresh and go deeper.”

The entire enterprise of response is critical to the nation’s readiness as we enter the 21st century’s third decade, attempting to prepare for the unknown challenges ahead.