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Pennsylvania National Guard: Planning equals successful training in Operation Vigilant Guard

By Staff Sgt. HollyAnn Nicom | 109th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment | May 15, 2014

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - A unique training event took place Monday at Harrisburg Area Community College when Soldiers, Airmen and civilian responders came together to react to a fictitious train derailment and apartment building collapse. The training was part of Vigilant Guard 2014, hosted by the Pennsylvania National Guard, with more than 2,500 participants.

This training was unique because it involved both military and civilian entities.

"We try to practice interoperability as much as possible but not to this degree; this is a pretty significant operation and it's going to involve a lot of responders from a lot of different agencies and we don't get to practice it at this level on a regular basis", said Randy Padfield, a Mechanicsburg, Pa., resident and the interim director of fire and emergency management system training at the Senator John J. Shumaker Public Safety Center at the college.

The Pennsylvania National Guard had an extremely vital role in planning and organizing this simulated natural disaster, one of the many events of Vigilant Guard.

Participants from the Pennsylvania National Guard, West Virginia National Guard, fire and rescue squads, members of the Dauphin County Hazardous Materials Team and a slew of other first responders were on hand Monday morning for the training.

"The site simulated a natural disaster resulting in a train derailment, a hazardous materials incident, a natural gas explosion and a building collapse scenario. This is a very large-scale operation," Padfield said. "The training is a complex scenario that gives responders challenging situations in order to gauge their reactions."

Planning for the exercise began a year and a half ago for the military and roughly a year ago for the civilian entities involved. It is a rare event that only occurs four times a year.

This training is vital to first responders and National Guard members.

"It's continuity all the way. Without continuity you would have a headache at response," said Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Borcky, of Lebanon, Pa. a member of Pennsylvania's National Guard 3rd Civil Support Team. "The more we train like this, as much as they train like this, it just gets better and better. It ultimately allows us to move to any state at any time to respond as one posture."

This training is important because it tests and enhances the relationships among civilian, federal and military partners. If we train in this environment when faced with a real-world disaster we will be prepared, added Padfield.