News: Operation Joint Eagle prepares Texas Guardsmen for disaster
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Griego
CAMP GRUBER, Okla. - Civil leader Spencer W. Kimball once said, “Preparedness, when properly pursued, is a way of life, not a sudden, spectacular program.”
The members of the Texas National Guard’s Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade) demonstrate this level of preparedness in all they do.
This was especially true the week of Sept. 13-19 at Camp Gruber in Muskogee, Okla., as the “Minuteman Brigade” took part in Operation Joint Eagle, an interagency, multi-state exercise that tested the response capabilities of the region when confronted with a notional F-5 tornado.
“We’re running an incident management team for a simulated event here at Gruber City,” said Sgt. Mike Fitzgerald, incident commander and officer with the Tulsa Police Department. “You’re going to have fire and police and medical agencies working together to come up with a plan in how you would handle something like this.”
The role of the National Guard in this exercise is as a force multiplier under the authority and guidance of local and regional civil agencies. This support is in fulfillment of JTF-136 MEB’s DOD-mandated Homeland Response Force mission, which tasks the military outfit to provide life-saving capabilities to augment the efforts of civilian first-responders within FEMA Region VI.
“To be able to support the civilian entities is an awesome feeling,” said Air Guard Tech. Sgt. Diana Huezo, a RIG medic with the Search and Extraction Team. “Once you know what role you have and what you’re supposed to be doing, it really makes you feel good that you’re part of a huge entity. We do need to do these trainings in case a real-world disaster does happen.”
The training, in order to effectively stress the response teams, compounded the simulated natural disaster with subsequent incidents, such as a terrorist attack and civil unrest among the affected populations. Such escalations call for the resources available to the brigade’s 6th CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package. CBRNE refers to the collective threats of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive contaminates.
"The scenario today is that we had an explosion go off,” said Army Maj. Heather Arndt, the Joint Eagle exercise coordinator and member of the Oklahoma National Guard. “The Texas CERFP is setting up to do a mass decontamination of all the innocent people who happened to be there. The beauty of the CERFP is not only can they do a mass decontamination, they can also do search and extraction to help save those people who are trapped. They also have a security element that can help keep control of the situation. They’re all able to go into that contaminated area and help bring those people out to safety.”
In addition to preparing for real-life emergencies, JTF-136 (MEB) used Joint Eagle as a precursor for their National Guard Bureau external evaluation in March to re-certify to conduct the Homeland Response Force mission.
“It’s very different from a combat mission,” said 1st Lt. Lance Willingham, a platoon leader with the 236th Military Police Company, part of the 6th CERFP. “Here, we’re here to help our fellow Americans in time of disaster. It’s a very different mission but in a lot of ways it’s a much more rewarding mission.”
“They’ve done this quite a few times so this is very familiar to them,” said Sgt. 1st Class Heather Sanchez, a platoon sergeant with the 236th MP Company. “They know what to do. They got out here, set it up, no issues. Their morale is really good."
With lives on the line when disaster strikes, preparation, training, and rehearsals are a way of life for JTF-136 (MEB).
Operation Joint Eagle, along with other scenarios like it, ensure these skilled Guardsmen will be equipped with the tools to support their civil partners and react as needed.
“We are always ready to go,” said Sanchez. “We are always prepared.”