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  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kyle Brooks
  • 171 Air Refueling Wing

The Air Force’s core values are a common bond that unifies Airmen, a commitment and a guide for the way to serve your country and community. 

These core values are embodied by the 171st Air Refueling Wing Fatality Search and Recovery Team (FSRT). 

The FSRT supports fatality search and recovery capabilities for the National Guard. Formed in 2008 after a series of events like Hurricane Katrina, the FSRT actively supports the Homeland Response Force (HRF), local authorities, and their community. The capabilities of FSRT are specifically tailored to augment and support other entities in any environment regardless of conditions.

Recently, the FSRT received the call to support a local mission in May 2020 for COVID operations locally in Beaver County, Pa. The FSRT was able to use the training provided to assist in safe decontamination of a nursing home.

“We are very lucky to have current FSRT members so dedicated to the mission,” said Tech. Sgt. Kayla Stapf, a Services Specialist and FSRT member assigned to the 171st Force Support Squadron. “All of the team responded to the activation call within an hour.”
“In short, we learned that whenever faced with the challenge of quickly gathering people and organizing gear, FSRT members rise to the challenge with flexibility and haste,” said Stapf. 

The team, consisting of 11 personnel, receives rigorous training in areas such as national incident management systems and hazardous material awareness and operations. Additionally, the group attends collective training exercises and evaluations annually. Team members are all trained with the ability to lead an FSRT if they are called individually to respond to a disaster. 

“Training on such a heavy subject (fatalities) can be difficult at the end of the day. However, we are very lucky to have a team and leadership that support each other,” said Stapf. 

Collective training exercises are a critical part of readiness for the FSRT. These exercises are done with multiple teams from across the country. Teams benefit from the joint training environment and sharing operational knowledge or successes with each other. For example, the 171st FSRT may join forces with another FSRT from Florida to simulate a hurricane response. These collective exercises help the FSRT work alongside many other entities such as medical, decontamination and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) response teams.

“Whenever you have a team that’s dedicated, you're all there for each other, and we support each other through everything,” said Stapf while describing the camaraderie of the team.

The 171st FSRT is the only military team in the state of Pennsylvania. Participating in the FSRT is only offered to members of the services flight. In addition to supporting the FSRT, members of the team are fully trained Services Specialists. Services Specialists perform duties such as managing force support programs like base dining, lodging and physical fitness.

The 171st FSRT is an exemplification of “service before self”, or an Airman's professional duties taking precedence over personal desire. An Airman’s strive for continual improvement of their service for greater accomplishment within themselves and their communities is a personification of “excellence in all we do”.