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Airman “lead” in disasters

Guard member exemplifies holistic approach

Lt. Col. Bruce Simpson, Operations Chief ??" TF Medical Surge, Washington Air National Guard, stands with members of the Quinault Tribe. Courtesy photo.

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Lt. Col. Bruce Simpson takes a holistic approach to his service in the Washington Air National Guard (WANG).

"The military has a diversity of people and missions," he wrote in an email, "but the sum of all the parts is truly amazing."

Simpson (no relation) joined the Guard in 2008 in response to a call from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA). 

The agency needed to fill newly created positions which enabled select Guard liaisons to work with civil authorities in the event of large disaster and/or mass fatalities search and recovery missions.

This experience led to Simpson being appointed to serve at the HQ Washington Air National Guard as the Director of Force Support.

"My mission focuses on working closely with civil authorities for mass fatality disaster response and recovery in FEMA Region 10 (Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho)," he added.

In accomplishing this joint Guard-FEMA mission, he was then invited to join one of FEMA's specialized disaster teams - theDisaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, or DMORT.

"My duties primarily relate to leadership, problem solving, and building relationships with county health officials and native tribes," he added.

After growing up in Vermont and New Mexico, Simpson joined the Air Force. He initially served for eight years on active duty as an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) launch officer.

In a career move, he accepted a position to teach in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington.

Separating from active duty, he remained at CWU to work as an adjunct professor in the college of business and in the Career Services & Employer Relations department to facilitate the connecting of students and faculty with employers.

Simpson resumed his service by joining the 446th Airlift Wing (Reserve) at McChord Field, and eventually became commander of a specialized unit that frequently deployed to Dover AFB, Delaware to augment the staff at the Department of Defense Aerial Port Mortuary.

"This occurred during the surges in U.S. government fatalities such as the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya, military aircraft crashes, the Space Shuttle Columbia crash, the 9/11 Pentagon attack, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom," he continued.

As the Director of Force Support, Simpson's recent work has been to coordinate a joint Washington Department of Health/WANG partnership dubbed "Task Force Medical Surge" in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I like how the Guard has helped out in this situation," he said.

Prior to this, he helped meet the challenges of the landslide in Oso, Washington, the cruise ship quarantine in San Diego, California, and the most recent Oregon wildfires.

Simpson also pointed out that "themost satisfying part has been each time - and there have been many times - that civil authorities have mentioned how great it was to have military assistance during a crisis and how they truly appreciated our unique capabilities and overall professionalism,"

"I think it is important to think critically, live simply, and interact playfully," he concluded.

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