News: First Army soldiers play key role in Capital Shield 2013
Story by Capt. Keith Thayer
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. - Observer-controller/trainers assigned to First Army Division East provided experience, knowledge, and valuable feedback for the 911th Technical Rescue Engineer Company during the National Capital Region’s recent annual Capital Shield exercise.
According to the commander of the 911th, an active duty unit stationed in the NCR, the First Army Division East OC/Ts made all the difference in the training.
“We don’t go to Joint Readiness Training Center or National Training Center, so this is our validation, and the OC/Ts we have bring that outside set of eyes that allow me, as the commander, time to focus on mission command, said Capt. Michael Riccitiello, commander of the 911th Technical Rescue Engineer Company.
The Capital Shield exercise integrates elements of the civilian unified control system and provides scenario-based training for agencies that would be the first called to respond to large-scale emergency incidents in the National Capital Region.
Soldiers assigned to the 1-345th Engineer Battalion, 157th Infantry Brigade, Camp Atterbury, Ind., served as observer controller/trainers, providing insight and assistance to the 911th TREC. Throughout the exercise, the OC/Ts conducted after action reviews, discussed lessons learned, and enforced doctrinal standards to ensure correct procedures are followed and understood.
“Having competent senior noncommissioned officers to observe and evaluate the training is invaluable to me,” Riccitiello said. “Receiving the roll-up of comments and critiques at the completion of this validation exercise will be the information we will rely upon to plan future training.”
The senior noncommissioned officers from First Army Division East used their expert knowledge of technical rescue, troop-leading procedures, and operational unit tactics to assist the 911th with after action reviews, critiques, and instruction consistent with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1006 doctrine.
This was not the first time Sgt. 1st Class Damon Hunt, 1-345 Engineer Battalion, certified in technical rescue, firefighting, participated in the exercise.
“This is a Direct Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) event that exercises interagency support to civilian authorities, said Hunt an engineer. “Capital Shield provides us genuine opportunity to embed and work side by side with our interagency partners. The exercise is under the control of the civilian unified command system, which must also be exercised.”
Hunt also supported the 911th TREC during last year’s exercise, and he was able to see how the unit as improved.
“The most rewarding things for me has been to see how the 911th has continued to grow, and being able to come back and, not only assist with their training, but also to bring other fellow NCOs along to assess and provide professional feedback, working as OC/Ts in this unique environment,” said Hunt.
Working along with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue personnel, Division East OC/Ts assessed the 911th on its ability to conduct 72 hour continuous operations, which would most likely be the case in the event of a real-world emergency.
“Our training takes place at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue training area,” said Riccitiello. “They have been very gracious in allowing us to conduct our training and validation event, and we hope to continue working together, maintaining our interagency partnership.”
The training allowed for repetition and a focus on correct procedures.
“To do this you, need a lot of patience. It’s a ‘slow is smooth; smooth is fast’-type of environment," said Sgt. 1st Class Rocky Duran, First Army Division East observer-controller-trainer. “If you get in a rush, get flustered, or if shortcuts are taken and all the blocks don’t get checked, there can be devastating effects.”
Not only did Riccitiello say he appreciated the OC/Ts support but he also took to heart Hunt’s comments during the 2012 exercise.
“Sgt. 1st Class Hunt helped us build our training and validation scenarios during Capital Shield 2012,” said Riccitiello. “One of last year’s AAR comments was that having the 911th use its own soldiers to create the scenarios prevented them from having those soldiers participate with the unit during execution.”
“Based on this feedback, this year we requested external evaluators to ensure all of our soldiers would be able to participate. Not knowing what the validation scenario exercises obviously provided a much more realistic training environment, which is what counts,” Riccitiello concluded.
This year’s Capital Shield exercise has been able to push the soldiers of the 911th to their limits.
“There are a lot of selfless actions performed and a self-sacrificing mindset amongst everyone involved with technical rescue,” explained Duran. “Right now, we are working towards assisting them with improving their overall coaching, motivating, and communicating skills. These are but a few of the many challenges they have faced during this event.”
As they improve their communication, their overall performance will also improve Duran explained.
“There is a more technical aspect to it: this experience will definitely make me more technically proficient,” said Duran.
Previously assigned as an observer-controller at the National Training Center, Sgt. 1st Class Dusty Beam, First Army Division East OC/T, is a veteran of this type of environment and knows what to look for, even if the equipment is different.
“Observing soldiers conducting pre-combat checks and inspections on cutting torches, breaching tools, and other rescue related mission-essential items has been different for me, versus observing soldiers conducting pre-combat checks and inspections on their standard military vehicles and weapons systems,” said Beam.
But the difference in the equipment also underscored the importance of this particular exercise.
“We always observe soldiers train for wartime missions, but observing soldiers prepare and train for homeland-type missions re-emphasizes the seriousness and critical requirement to have and maintain units at home such as the 911th” Beam explained. “It is crucial for me to give them my best effort. This training is as realistic as they can make it. There are very little if any 'notional' or 'notion-based' training moments. The environment, the equipment, and the personnel make this a world-class training event.”
First Army Division East, a multi-compo unit, provides OC/Ts to support the training readiness of the total Army force.