News: The Civil Affairs’ Vibrant Response
Story by Lt. Col. Patty Brewer
Camp Atterbury, Ind. – A major American city is hit by a nuclear weapon and various U.S. government agencies, the U.S. military, and non-governmental agencies respond to the crisis. Two U.S. Army Reserve units, the 412th Civil Affairs Battalion, from Columbus, Ohio, and the 489th Civil Affairs Battalion from Knoxville, Tennessee, joined almost 5,500 Soldiers and civilians responding to a simulated catastrophic domestic incident during Operation Vibrant Response 14.
Vibrant Response 14 is a major field training exercise conducted by U.S. Northern Command and led by U.S. Army North. U.S. Army North conducts Vibrant Response 14 to confirm the operational readiness and tactical capabilities of major elements of the Department of Defense’s specialized forces designed to respond to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) incidents in support of local, state and federal civilian agencies.
“Typically, civil affairs operations are conducted overseas,” said Maj. Mark Bailey of the 360th Civil Affairs Brigade. “During special circumstances, such as the current exercise scenario, civil affairs units can be called upon to provide civil support operations to augment civil authorities.”
During Vibrant Response 14, civil affairs Soldiers of the 412th and 489th Civil Affairs Battalions assessed housing locations for displaced civilians, provided immediate medical aid to injured civilians and coordinated ongoing medical help through the local Incident Commander. Soldiers also provided veterinary services to local farmers, assessed infrastructure stability and determined the viability of local drinking water.
“These are standard civil affairs missions,” said Maj. Ronnie Deweese, Delta Company commander for the 412th Civil Affairs Battalion. “During operations, our Civil Affairs teams are given a mission, conduct their planning, and coordinate movement with the incident commander.”
The incident commander is a local municipal leader, typically a police or fire chief, who coordinates all the relief and recovery efforts in the affected area. For example, after the Pentagon was hit on Sept. 11, 2001, the incident commander was the Arlington assistant fire chief for operations. He coordinated the emergency response, recovery efforts and area security. During Vibrant Response 14, David Matthews played the role of incident commander and stringently ensured teams were prepared to conduct their missions.
“Today’s missions occurred six days after the nuclear explosion,” said Matthews. “Displaced civilians are still in desperate need of medical care, food and water.”
Matthews advised teams that, as they conducted their missions, such as assess drinking water or infrastructure viability, they could also render immediate aid to the most severely wounded and call air medevac.
No one could depart for his or her mission until the incident commander was convinced that teams were adequately prepared for the challenges they would encounter. The incident commander queried questions to participants. Was everyone familiar with the symptoms of radiation poisoning? What were the primary and alternate routes? What were the rally points? What were the primary means of communication? Did teams have special staff, training, or equipment?
“Once cleared, the incident commander tracked each team’s movement via GPS and insisted on hourly status and mission updates,” said Maj. Jon Trolla, 412th Civil Affairs Battalion liaison officer. “The hourly reports not only provided information on the teams’ well-being but situational awareness for the Incident Commander.”
Soldiers’ boot-on-the-ground perspective gave Matthews a better means to develop planning and resources for the next days’ missions. When teams returned from mission, they briefed the incident commander, provided finalized assessments and suggested resources to aid civilians or mitigate problems such as a damaged infrastructure.
“We worked jointly with the incident commander as well as various federal, state, and municipal agencies and the National Guard during Vibrant Response,” said 1st Lt. Timothy Samms, a team leader with Alpha Company, 412th Civil Affairs Battalion. “We learned from each other and shared experiences that I will apply in the future.”
The cooperative relationship between the incident commander and the civil affairs teams brings about effective crisis response and is a typical civil affairs mission. Key Leader Engagements, evaluating needs and allocating resources are standard civil affairs tasks that, during the War on Terror, Soldiers conducted while on deployment.
During Vibrant Response 14, the 412th and 489th Civil Affairs Battalions demonstrate how Soldiers stand ready to apply these same skill sets in support of domestic emergency disaster relief efforts.
Civil Affairs Soldiers have unique training, skills and experience. Most of the Army’s Civil Affairs forces are in the Reserve component, and these citizen-Soldiers possess finely-honed skills practiced daily in the civilian sector as educators, police officers, firemen, veterinarians, nurses, machinists and machine repairmen, landscapers, construction workers, aircraft mechanics, and as an aid to a state representative.
Operation Vibrant Response 14 provided the 412th and 489th Civil Affairs Battalions the opportunity to practice essential tasks in support of civil support operations. The most important lesson is engaging with the incident commander. The quid pro quo of information, assistance and resource coordination assures mission success.
For additional information, contact Lt. Col. Patty Brewer at 703-470-6521 or firstname.lastname@example.org.