Dedicated commander leads highly specialized unit to great heights
SEATTLE - For the past year, the Washington National Guard’s (WANG) Homeland Response Force (HRF) Region X has had a dedicated commander driving them to great heights.
Col. James Rollins has served in the guard for over 20 years and has been the HRF’s commander since May 2013, working diligently to shape and define the HRF into what it is today. The HRF is a highly qualified force made up of Air and Army National Guardsmen who are prepared and ready to respond to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive threats within 12 hours of notice.
There are 10 HRFs in the U.S., each located in one of 10 regions covering the U.S. with each region consisting of four to eight states. Within each region is one state that is home to a HRF, while the remaining states are home to other emergency response elements, such as a Civil Support Team (CST) or a CBRN Enhanced Response Package (CERFP), who also play a vital role in the event of an emergency.
Rollins was originally the program manager for the HRF before becoming its commander.
“As the program manager, I was responsible for the organization of the HRF and successfully completing its first external evaluation,” said Rollins.
Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Teresita Del Rosario began working for the HRF in February 2012, while Rollins was still the program manager, and worked directly with Rollins for eight months. During that time, Del Rosario was able to witness firsthand Rollins’ dedication to the HRF and to educating people about who they are and what they do.
“The HRF is like his baby, it’s his passion,” explained Del Rosario, the senior human resources noncommissioned officer for the Washington National Guard HRF. “It’s like everything he did, the decisions he made, they were all for the HRF, to show people the [HRF’s] capability.”
“I think he was the driving force behind the HRF,” said Army Staff Sgt. John Diviney, a medic with MEDCOM (Medical Command) Detachment 1. “I really attribute the HRF’s continuance to Col. Rollins.”
Rollins worked hard to establish good working relations within Region X , which consists of Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Idaho, by having a conference. With the help of Del Rosario, Rollins invited stakeholders and people who would work directly with the HRF in the event of a disaster to come and discuss what the HRF is and their capabilities.
“One of the first things I did when I came on board was set up the first conference, where we invited stakeholders from the region but also NGB [National Guard Bureau], the medical community and the first responding community,” said Del Rosario. “It was really a good conference that just got people talking and understanding what it is that we do and what our capabilities are.”
Rollins conference was successful in getting people talking about the HRF and its capabilities, allowing him to then focus on building better relations within the HRF, between the Army and Air Force.
“When I started with the CERFP [CBERN Enhanced Response Force Package] many years ago, there was definitely a big separation [between the Air and Army Guard],” Diviney remembers.
“He forced collaborations between the Army and the Air and his manner wasn’t off putting. We’re talking two different cultures, Army and Air,” said Del Rosario. “Col. Rollins is definitely a huge, huge proponent of the join environment.”
Cohesive work relations between the Army and Air Force are critical for the success of the HRF. When the HRF responds to disasters, such as the SR 530 landslide that occurred in April 2014, it is highly important that both the Army and Air Force work as one team to perform at their highest capability.
“I think that the enterprise really showed its excellence when it responded to support the citizens of Oso, Darrington and Arlington during the Oso mudslide that occurred last April,” said Rollins.
Responding to the SR 530 landslide, one of the single deadliest landslides in U.S. history, is the first time units within the HRF had been activated to respond to a disaster.
“We were there inside of 24 hours with a very desperately needed capability, which was the search and extraction capability,” said Rollins.
The Washington Fatality Search and Recovery Team (FSRT) traveled to the SR 530 landslide from Spokane and, with support from Colorado’s Fatality Search and Recovery Team, provided instrumental support by searching for survivors of the slide as well as locating those lost in the slide.
“The Washington Search and Extraction Team were some of the first persons literally wading in chest-deep mud looking for survivors. Some actually had to crawl through the debris on all-fours to find people,” Rollins explained. “I am deeply proud of these men and women and honored to be associated with them.”
Members of the HRF also feel honored to have worked with Rollins during his time in command of the HRF. His positive attitude, caring personality and determined work ethic are just a few qualities that make him such a good commander.
“He is one of those commanders, rare commanders, that I’ve run into who cares, I mean really cares,” said Del Rosario. “I found that I could tell him something personal or family related and he’d remember weeks and months later to ask, ‘Hey, how’s that going by the way?’ so you knew he was really listening to you.”
“Absolutely without a doubt the best commander I’ve ever had, and I’ve been in for 21 years,” said Diviney. “He is definitely the epitome of an officer and a gentleman.”
It is through the conversations and views Rollins shares with people that his kindness and modesty come to surface, two of the key ingredients that contribute to him being a successful and well-respected commander.
“It is never MY accomplishment. It is always OUR accomplishment,” insisted Rollins. “I am nothing without the support of quality Airmen and Soldiers.”