Staying Vigilant in 2011

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Michael Matkin
  • 161 ARW Public Affairs
The 161st Air Refueling Wing participated in an exercise involving the nation's first responders, whose mission was to respond to a simulated flood and improvised nuclear device detonation during an exercise here, Nov. 2-7, 2011.

The exercise, Vigilant Guard, is a federally funded program which began in 2005 and is required of all states to improve preparedness for emergency and disaster response. This year's exercise was the 14th to be staged nationally.

Servicemembers from the 161 ARW, along with National Guard units from California, Colorado, and Arizona, joined with local, state and federal emergency responders to test, sharpen and evaluate the skills, expertise and coordination of local, state and federal civilian response agencies.

Vigilant Guard enables these participants to work together, forge relationships and experience the strengths and effectiveness of their counterpart's plans and procedures.

"It is rare that we have this kind of opportunity to work as a joint military and civilian force," said Maj. Cheryll Shewbert, Joint Personnel Reception Center officer in charge. "Vigilant Guard provides us the opportunity to learn the different lingo between different military and civilian branches, which may not coincide."

"Now, if there is a real-world disaster, we will be able to communicate effectively and have a foundation to build upon," she added. "It is also an opportunity to build networks and relationships, which will set up a communication line between agencies and formalize the process."

The 161st Communications Squadron deployed the Joint Incident Site Communications Capability to help facilitate communication between agencies.

The system has an array of computer and communications equipment and comes with its own tent. However, the system can also be set up inside a standing structure. The focal point of the system is a 33-foot antenna. It gives the system capabilities to communicate over high frequency, ultra high frequency, very high frequency and 800 megahertz channels. This capability is vital in the aftermath of a disaster. Among other capabilities, the JISCC can link an incident site anywhere in the nation to state and national headquarters. It also has the capability to connect to cellular telephones and home telephones; it makes conflicting communication systems compatible.

"The JISCC allows all agencies who may be working on different frequencies to speak together," said Master Sgt. Craig Armstrong, JISCC non-commissioned officer in charge, "this is incredibly important during a natural disaster where more than one agency will be involved in the response."

"We have also been able to gather a wealth of information," he said. "So if something does happen, an agency can tell us to go to a channel and we already have that frequency programmed - this makes us more efficient, effective and timely."

Creating a more efficient and effective process in responding to disasters was a major goal of the exercise, said Lt. Col. David Kempson, the lead controller for military and civilian medical integration, which was why a large portion of the training took place at a unique location called the "rubble pile." The "pile," simulated the remnants of a collapsed reinforced cement building, which was built especially for the exercise from concrete, steel reinforcement and other debris. The "pile," gave participants the opportunity to do realistic search and recovery operations.

Once a simulated victim was recovered, servicemembers from the 161st Medical Group provided support to the California and Colorado CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high yield explosives) Enhanced Response Force Package teams. The CERFP is a 180-200 person team that has decontamination, extraction, medical and command and control capabilities that is designed to provide mass decontamination and medical treatment to victims. The 161 ARW MDG also provided a team of Bioenvironmental Engineering servicemembers to monitor radiological contamination around the site.

"Having the opportunity to train hands-on with simulated victims and with multiple agencies was a great opportunity for the [servicemembers], which contributed to the exercise being such a huge success," said Colonel Kempson. "Everyone involved did a great job and we are better prepared as a state and a nation because of it."