News: Task Force 51 prepares to hand off control of emergency management mission
Story by Sgt. Brandon Anderson
WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. – For the past five years, Task Force 51, headquartered at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, has been responsible for command and control of the Chemical, Biological, Nuclear Response mission the Department of Defense has in place.
The mission entails being the unit in charge of coordinating all active duty Army assets used in the case of a CBRNE attack on U.S. soil.
During this time, they have trained and tested their ability to direct the numerous moving pieces involved.
“We've had to maintain a high state of readiness in order to respond quickly if an incident occurs,” said James Skidmore, the deputy chief of staff for Task Force 51. “We're able to get an initial response team ready to deploy to the site of an attack within four hours and the main force within 12.”
Over the next few months, TF 51 is scheduled to finalize their transition of control of the mission to Task Force 76, based out of Salt Lake City, in October.
In preparation for the hand-off, TF 51 has been working with the Soldiers and leadership of TF 76 to assure a smooth transition takes place.
Lt. Col. Andrew Novitske, the operations officer for TF 51, said the transition has been a work in progress for a while now.
“The first event that we did with the incoming unit was conducting a commanders' forum at Fort Sam [Houston, San Antonio] a few months ago,” said Novitske. "The key leaders from each task force got the opportunity to sit down with each other and discuss the mission and the transition process.”
During a digital command post exercise held at the Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, the two task forces conducted a training exercise where TF 76 simulated command and control, and TF 51 provided oversight and guidance.
The exercise was designed to be an indicator of where the two task forces stood in relation to the transition process.
“We've created a synchronization matrix that has different steps and requirements that have to be met before the final hand-off occurs,” said Novitske. "We're providing them with proven products and guidance that we've used during our time as the command and control unit to help them as they take over this critical mission.”
Some elements of the two task forces have been working together over the past two years, as members of the 302nd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade augmented TF 51.
“Working with the 302nd MEB has been extremely important,” said Sgt. Maj. Christopher Frediani, the noncommissioned officer in charge of TF 51. “They've taken part in numerous training exercises with us and have a good grasp on how the mission works.”
Other elements of TF 76 haven't taken part during past exercises, but will take on a more active role during the training exercises.
“This is really the first time that other elements of Task Force 76 have been integrated in this kind of exercise,” said Frediani. “We're just trying to get everyone on the same page.”
Due to the nature of the mission, all elements of the task force have to work together to provide the leadership for recovery, search and rescue, mitigating the loss of life, and coordinating aviation assets.
“This is a zero fail mission,” said Col. Russell Lewis, the chief of staff for TF 51. "If an actual attack like this were to take place, it would be one the worst days in American history.”
Task Force 76 will the take lessons they've learned from this exercise and be able to apply them as they take over as the command and control of the C2CRE mission.
The two units are scheduled to come together again in late July when TF 51 validates the proficiency of TF 76 in Exercise Vibrant Response held at Camp Atterbury, Indiana.