News: Train like you fight: Vigilant Guard scenarios prepares participants for worst
Story by Sgt. John Angelo
CAMP DOUGLAS, Wis. -- Earthquakes, tanker trucks leaking toxic fumes, riots, tornados, cyber attacks, mass casualty from a chemical plant and floods all happening at the same time. No it is not the end of days or Armageddon. It was Operation Vigilant Guard, an exercise happening simultaneously across the United States.
The exercise is a multi-state exercise that is designed to improve the interstate and inter agency workings between the National Guard and local, state and federal emergency responders. Wisconsin was one the many states involved and hosting these scenarios. The Wisconsin Vigilant Guard exercise took place May 14 through May 20 at various locations including Milwaukee, Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution and Volk Field.
At Volk Field, members of the Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio National Guard, as well as local responders, were busy with a scenario that involved tornados touching down in La Crosse on the edge of the university. The Ohio National Guard members where playing the roll of the Homeland Response Force.
The HRF provides command and control of multiple Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Enhanced Response Force Packages. At Volk Field the CERF-P is from the Minnesota National Guard. The CERF-Ps provide immediate response to the governor including: incident site search, capability of damaged buildings, rescuing trapped civilians, providing decontamination and performing medical triage and initial treatment to stabilize patients for transport to medical facilities.
In the scenario, the Minnesota National Guard responds to the outbreak of tornados in La Crosse because the Wisconsin National Guard is already responding to the massive earthquake that has happened along the Ohio River Valley. Minnesota was able to respond in Wisconsin because of the Emergency Management Compact between Minnesota and the bordering states.
The Minnesota National Guard’s CERF-P includes members from the both the Army and Air National Guard. Soldiers from the 682nd Engineer Battalion and 434th Chemical Company provide command and control, search and rescue, and decontamination. Airmen from the 133rd Airlift Wing and 148th Fighter Wing provide medical support during search and rescue, medical treatment and triage, and mortuary services.
One of the things that an exercise of this caliber allows is being able to work with the different units and agencies.
“It’s good to see the information sharing and seeing how other states do things,” added Lt. Col. Sol Sukut, CERF-P commander. “During the mission there isn’t “airmen” or “coldiers” there is “CERF-P,” it is a unique opportunity to be in command of a team that is both Air Force and Army and civilians.”
One of the many things that the Minnesota CERF-P did during the exercise was to mentor 28 members of the Wisconsin National Guard CERF-P in Madison. The Madison CERF-P learned equipment facilitation, medical procedures, team interaction, logistics and supply, medical command and control and many other aspects of CERF-P inter-element operations.
Operation Vigilant Guard was part of the larger National Level Exercise 11, a training scenario about responding to a 6.5-7 magnitude earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. This exercise involved more than 40,000 National Guard members working with active duty service members and federal and state emergency personnel in the successful execution of the largest interagency exercise ever.
Being a CERF-P member can be stressful and labor intensive.
“The dedication of these soldiers and airmen is amazing,” said Sukut, “regular Guardsmen train 24 days throughout the year and two weeks during the summer. CERF-P service members usually train over 30 days more during their first year on the team and then an extra two weeks every year.”
Sukut felt that the training was very rewarding and realistic.
“You gotta train like you fight,” said Sukut. “We relish the opportunity to come to Volk Field and be part of Operation Vigilant Guard.“