News: Rolling Thunder measures truck units during emergency
Story by Master Sgt. Paul Wade
ROSEVILLE, Calif. – “If it happens, it could affect this entire area along here,” said Timothy Funk, first sergeant for Detachment 1, 2632nd Transportation Company, pointing at a map of the San Francisco Bay Area. “Right along the Hayward Fault line or any of the others we have, if key bridges or roads are damaged, our forces could be cut off from each other. That is why we have planned alternate routes,” reassured Funk, whose motor vehicle specialists from the California Army National Guard armory in Meadowview were being placed on high alert.
The mention of fault lines sends shivers through those who have lived near the city by the Bay and remember the 6.9-magnitude earthquake that shook Candlestick Park during the 1989 World Series, collapsed part of the Bay Bridge, caused $10 billion in damage and killed 63 people. Others may remember the 5.1-magnitude quake in Napa in 2001, or the pair of quakes that shook Berkeley last October.
It has happened many times before, and it will happen again. Seismologists say “the big one” could be right around the corner, and when it hits, the quake will likely lay waste to important infrastructure.
The California Army National Guard’s 115th Regional Support Group (RSG), headquartered in Roseville, decided not to wait for the next tremor and be unprepared. They made the earth quake themselves one minute after midnight on Jan. 6, 2012 in the form of an Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise (EDRE) that would test and validate the capabilities of their transportation corps.
“Rolling Thunder is in effect,” repeated Col. Rene Horton, the group commander, as she called each one of her company and battalion commanders from the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Roseville. “A major earthquake has hit the Bay Area. This could be a tragic event but we have been training for this and we have a job to do. Roll out and do great things. Do you understand your orders commander?”
“Yes ma’am,” came the reply each time.
“Then execute,” said Horton, who has been serving in transportation and maintenance units since she was a lieutenant.
This would set the wheels in motion on more than 55 trucks, with varied configurations, and approximately 217 citizen-Soldiers from the Golden State. RSG units stretching as far as 300 miles, from Atascadero in the south to Roseville in the north, scrambled into their trucks. In an actual emergency they would drive to other armories that house Soldiers trained in security, police or civil disturbance, load them up and take a possible payload of 552 troops into the action to either stabilize the situation or lend a helping hand. For now the destination was Intermediate Staging Bases (ISB) nearby.
Some of their vehicles aren’t built for troop transport but are critical nonetheless and carry vital material such as food and rations, medical and life-support supplies, and even tools and recovery capabilities to keep the hauling machines moving.
“This exercise is really testing the Soldier in the ranks. We aren’t getting into the nuts and bolts of the leadership plan just yet. Right now we are focusing on getting our teams where they are supposed to be,” said Lt. Col. Kurt Velte, Horton’s second-in-command, and the brainchild for this first-ever training event that entirely targets their wheeled assets. “Getting the infantry and military police units is just notional for now. We play pick them up. We want to stress our systems and identify those bumps in the road first.”
California has more than 2.3 million miles of paved roads, which if uprooted and torn asunder, could create havoc for emergency responders trying to get to the affected area. That is why each of the five teams is given two or three routes to get to their objective. But they have to get out of the armory gate first.
“One of the items we have been stressing is a packing list. Our troops need to have a box or bag at home that contains things like 30 days of meds, eight days of clothes, stuff they will need in an emergency that they can grab and go,” Velte said. “We want to be responding to this alert in five to six hours.”
Velte, who works as an electrician when not serving as an infantry officer, said the planning and pre-training has been going on for six months. “We always think we are ready, and then it becomes the ‘should have, could have’ game. The National Guard’s motto is ‘Always Ready, Always There’. But are we really?”
As time ticks closer to 2 a.m., Horton expresses her concern: “Every minute we delay, the life of a citizen of California is at stake. Our timely response is critical,” she emphasizes. “We aren’t in the run phase of this exercise just yet. We aren’t involving all of our troops within our companies and battalions. Most of this has been pre-staged but we need to add our artificial stressors, while keeping safety at the highest priority. All of these are important so we can spot our shortfalls,” said Horton.
A few minutes’ later troops begin to walk into armories with sleep still in their eyes and receive a mission brief. In Meadowview a full-time student, a security guard, a commercial truck driver and a corrections officer put their civilian lives on hold, donned their Army Combat Uniforms and got to work conducting preventive maintenance, checks and services on their vehicles.
“This is the traditional role of the National Guard. This is why we exist and this is why we are always going to be relevant,” said Sgt. 1st Class Victor Maurizzio, assigned to Detachment 1, 2632nd Transportation Company but a deployed veteran of the 2668th Transportation Company out of Oroville.
Maurizzio knows the importance of the saying, ‘practice makes perfect’.
“I was around for the ‘94 and ‘96 state disasters so this exercise can only strengthen our capabilities. What we want to do today is fail. We want to find those deficiencies and create a plan to never have them happen again. Now is the time for that, not when this really happens and people’s lives are on the line,” said Maurizzio while he supervises his team performing maintenance.
Roseville had its own band of eclectic citizen-Soldiers reporting to Sgt. 1st Class Brian Breaker, their convoy commander, and Capt. Tesker Lemoine, the Headquarters Detachment commander. An IT specialist, a model, a pharmacy and auto mechanic tech, a construction worker, a stay-at-home mother and an unemployed student got spun up on the situation and given words of encouragement and reflection.
“We learned from lessons in the past. We aren’t overseas. These are our fellow citizens and they need to be treated like friends and family. We could even have our own troops affected by these disasters,” said Breaker before releasing them to their tasks.
When the Soldiers greeted their vehicles in the early January morning it was like seeing an old friend, a friendship based on a love, hate relationship. And it was the operator’s job to revive that friend who could have been sitting in the motor pool for a month without being started. Their eyes scanned their dispatch books, heads poking under hoods, cold hands removing dipsticks and churning over cold engines.
Teams from the 349th and 1040th Quartermaster companies, 118th Maintenance Company, 1113th Transportation Company, 340th Brigade Support Battalion and 297th Area Support Medical Company were all doing the same preparations and all under a watchful eye.
“We have a lot of outside eyes looking in,” said Funk of the external evaluators from outside the RSG. Convoy, transportation, maintenance and training experts from California’s Task Force Warrior, 223rd Regional Training Institute and Field Maintenance Shops (FMS) are positioned throughout the exercise to observe, note and report their findings.
“We have a lot of maintenance, service and support and parts facilities up and down this state that become a beacon for transportation units. We are a hub of capabilities to these vehicle operator’s and must maintain an intimate relationship with each other,” said Maj. Michael Faatz of the California Military Department’s Surface Maintenance Office in Sacramento. “We created some maintenance training lanes at the ISBs for our evaluator’s to check the level of proficiency. They will look at licenses, tire changing abilities, wrecker and recovery skills and the continuity of each team’s standard operating procedures.”
In the early morning hours, as dawn was breaking, the RSG leadership — including Col. Keith Tresh, the incoming commander, who will replace Horton as she becomes the deputy commander at the U.S. Property and Fiscal Office — gathered once more in the emergency operations center. Reports were coming in, and real-time traffic video was fed onto a heads-up display along with satellite weather, road conditions and breaking news. Dust storms were spotted at one of the staging bases.
Horton headed to the Sierra College parking lot in Rocklin and arrived in time to see several units drive in and pull security. Simultaneously, teams were arriving at intermediate staging bases in Benicia, Kettleman City and Ripon. Horton greeted her troops with a smile, excited to take a concept from paper and put it to the test.
“Our EDRE ties directly into [the adjutant general’s] number one priority and that is Defense Support to Civil Authorities, and our mission is to rapidly, and safely, move 500 Soldiers, who are already identified as our Rapid Response Force, to a specific location in the event of emergency operations. Our Soldiers love this. It keeps them sharp. We will make adjustments as needed and continue to improve from here,” said Horton.
“Considering all the moving parts it went very smoothly,” said Maurizzio, who arrived from Meadowview with his team. Horton is hearing the same successful report coming in from all the teams.
The safety, training and well being of the Soldiers are the primary concern for Command Sgt. Maj. Randall Cady who did his own evaluating.
“The troops appeared sharp, motivated. It looks like we have very few bugs to iron out because of the great preparation done by the teams. This training is so crucial. We need a plan that can be passed on because we are constantly dealing with rotating crews. Not everyone can be an 88M,” said Cady, the top enlisted Soldier for the RSG.
“For this exercise to be happening on the first weekend of the New Year while revelers are still ringing in 2012 it really is amazing to see the depth of planning and the involvement of the troops at such a high level,” said Faatz.
“There was a learning curve here, but we just validated our troop lift capability. Our objective here was to be able to move over 500 rapid-response force Soldiers within 12 hours of notification,” said Velte. “Even with our own glitches, we were positioned to accomplish this in less than 10 hours.”
Velte knows that natural disasters don’t pay attention to holidays and that is why creating an exercise like the EDRE keeps the citizen-soldiers of California Army National Guard ready, valued and vigilant.