News: US Army North and US Northern Command hosts Vibrant Response 13 at Atterbury-Muscatatuck
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Matt Scotten
EDINBURGH, Ind. - In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, images and video swarmed the internet of first responders from various organizations from all over the country. Soldiers, civilians and law enforcement agencies of all sorts filled sandbags, searched for survivors, delivered water and rendered aide to those in need on a massive scale.
It is possible that the only thing more challenging than bringing such a response force to bear is trying to find a way to orchestrate them all towards such a unified goal. Civilian volunteer groups, law enforcement, and even specialized units from different branches of the military operate in different ways; have different kinds of equipment, and enough jargon and acronyms to sound almost like a foreign language at times.
U. S. Army North, U. S. Northern Command's Joint Force Land Component Command, is hosting an exercise across Southern Indiana and Kentucky called Vibrant Response. The exercise gives these various response forces the opportunity to train together in a homeland disaster scenario, in order to allow responders to hone their skills so they can be better prepared in the case of another Hurricane Katrina, or in the case of the scenario driving this year's exercise, a nuclear explosion in the Midwest United States.
"Approximately 75 units will participate in this exercise, and the number of troops that will be trained will be about 8,000" said Clark Wigley, joint exercise planer for U.S. Army North. "We learn to work together by sitting down and talking through the problem sets that arise and solving the issues that are in front of us."
This year's Vibrant Response is the 13th iteration of this exercise, and it has grown exponentially over the years.
"We started off in kind of a crawl phase, then we walked and now we are running," said Wigley. "We started off with training somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 troops to training almost 10,000 which includes a growing number of federal agencies."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is participating this year with a regional incident management team along with a national incident management team this year lead by Justo Hernandez.
"We have been working with the Army for years now, in preparing for any potential catastrophic event," said Hernandez. "FEMA is a coordinating agency, in that we lead and direct various government entities in disaster situations, and the Army is one of the biggest resources that we have, so this benefits us because we can learn about the new units, the new tactics and the new teams that the Army may have, and once we learn about those capabilities, we can plan and implement those things downrange in the future."
Gen. Charles Jacoby Jr, Commander of U.S. Northern Command, flew into Indiana August 1 to see for himself how the exercise was going. He was impressed with not only the training facilities at Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck, but also with the surrounding community support for the exercise.
"When you come to a training venue like this and you see all the contextual challenges that are portrayed here, the first thing that occurs to you is that this is a first-class operation," said Jacoby, "but as everyone who has ever been at a catastrophic incident knows, it is all the distractions and the sights and sounds of an event that really challenge what may be simple individual tasks and makes them very difficult. This is truly a unique venue and all of the surrounding noise and sights and smells are really an important part of it."
The presence of so many loud noises, and smells, and helicopters flying around and such are one of the reasons Jacoby was so impressed with the surrounding communities, as exercises of this size and scope always have an unavoidable effect on the surrounding area.
"This is way more than just Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck," said Jacoby.
"It is an entire community involvement across the southern half of the State of Indiana, and if you don't have community buy-in, you can't do something like this. I think that this is really a unique strength of America; the relationship between first-responders at the local level, the state, the Department of Defense, and then a community that really allows us to practice and hone our skills.
At Muscatatuck, units took advantage of the available urban training areas to stage scenarios where responders had to search rubble and damaged structures for survivors and then rescue and treat them, to include treating them for exposure to nuclear radiation. Units like the Marine Corps' Chemical/Biological Incident Response Force was treating simulated survivors of one area of the compound while the Army's 21st Chemical Company conducted similar operations only blocks away, giving the units the opportunity to learn from each other and expand upon their skills."
"We tried to up the ante this year compared to last year's Vibrant Response," said Cpl. Michael Gannon, with the CBIRF. "We have a lot more medical stabilization and utilization of the advanced emergency medical technician live tissue training that a lot of our extract marines have been using. Not only are we conducting downrange operations, but we are also conducting support of the medical side of things."
Vibrant Response units on Camp Atterbury focused largely on more advanced hospital operations. Units such as the Air Force 79th Medical Group built field expedient hospitals to care for simulated casualties with wounds and injuries that were beyond the capabilities of first responders. Patients were flown in regularly the Army's 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment out of Fort Knox, Ky., allowing hospital airmen to practice not only caring for patient but integrating with helicopter medical evacuation operations.
All operations were orchestrated by a joint command element that comprised of Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and various civilian personnel from several agencies as well as government contracted private companies so that not only would personnel on the ground get to practice their skills, but the personnel at the operational level would have the opportunity to work together to organize a joint effort, exactly like they would have to do in a real disaster situation.
The exercise will continue until August 13th with the bulk of operations occurring at Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck. For more information on Vibrant Response, go to the Camp Atterbury website at www.campatterbury.in.ng.mil or the U.S. Army North website at www.arnorth.army.mil.
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