A couple of weeks back, I sat down with two senior members of Virginia Task Force 1, Capt. Joseph Knerr and Lt. Rodney Vaughan of Fairfax County’s International Search and Rescue Team for an in-depth interview of what they experienced during a mission to Japan following the earthquake and tsunami. It’s a five part interview that tells their story in their own words.

Linked here is Part 1. Be sure to check back with Security Debrief – and also on Defense Media Network – for the rest of the series.

After Deployment: A Conversation with Virginia Task Force 1 About Their Time in Japan – Part 1

Virginia Task Force 1 has seen its share of bad days. As one of the world’s elite international search and rescue teams, the unique squadron of men and women from the Fairfax County (Virginia) Fire and Rescue Department has been around the world answering the calls of help in the worst of conditions. From floods, terrorism strikes, and tsunamis to earthquakes, there are few hazardous environments that they have not deployed into, but a new more challenging chapter in their history unfolded in March 2011.

On March 11, the strongest recorded earthquake (9.0 magnitude) in Japan’s history occurred. Striking the northern portion of island nation it unleashed not only significant physical destruction to one of the most earthquake prepared countries on the planet but an unprecedented tsunami that brought even more death and destruction would sweep inland killing thousands and literally wiping away port facilities, fishing villages as well as whole cities. The destruction could only be comprehended in Biblical proportions given the apocalyptic nature of it.

Despite these threats and conditions, there was no hesitancy by Virginia Task Force 1 or the other international search and rescue teams in going to Japan to offer what assistance they could.

Arriving in Japan almost a day and a half after the first earthquake violently shook the island nation from its normal, everyday life, Virginia Task Force 1 would deploy into the northern reaches of the country. Taking with them all of the equipment that they would need to extract survivors from the waterlogged rubble, the Task Force members would encounter situations that they had never experienced before. Unlike some of its most recent deployments to places like Haiti, China and even the U.S. Gulf Coast following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, there would be no trapped survivors to extract from debris strewn areas. There would only be recovery operations, building reinforcement actions and other support efforts to provide assistance to Japanese rescue authorities. A week after they arrived in Japan, they would make a somber trek home on March 19 to northern Virginia to anxious and waiting families and colleagues as well as the community of Fairfax County that proudly calls this elite unit its own.

On March 25, Defense Media Network Senior Homeland Security Writer Rich Cooper sat down with Capt. Joe Knerr, a seventeen-year firefighter and one of two Task Force Leaders of Virginia Task Force 1, and Lt. Rodney Vaughan, a sixteen-year fireman and senior member of the elite unit at Fire Station 18 in Falls Church, Va., to reflect on their deployment to Japan, the experiences of the disaster, and the lessons learned that they take away from this unprecedented disaster.

Read the full interview.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More