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NGB Chief Lengyel observes joint disaster response training

By Sgt. Devon Bistarkey | 29th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment | April 16, 2018

MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. – Gray skies greeted the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, and other distinguished visitors, including commanding officers from units across the nation, arriving Saturday at Camp Atterbury.

Visitors toured various training areas to observe operations and interact with Soldiers a part of exercise Vibrant Response and Guardian Response 18, proving true the old Army adage, "if it ain't raining, we ain't training."

Training is exactly what over 5,200 military and government civilian personnel have been doing since the start of the multi-component U.S. Army North annual disaster response exercise designed to validate integrated response forces in the event of a catastrophe.

Given the scenario of a nuclear blast in the Northwest, mobilizing support and executing life-saving efforts is the test of the forces here operating under the mission line, "We're here on America's worst day."

"This is the homeland component of our strategic national defense priorities which includes building military readiness as we build a joint force," Lengyel said. "This is a very important exercise, particularly for the National Guard, which is positioned around the country to come to the aid of first responders. To be able to come here and protect [maintain] skill sets from search and rescue to medical and chemical – all that we do here helps us to be ready for that worst day."

In addition to the command-level test of coordinating state and federal agencies participating in Vibrant Response 18, forces responded to the shared scenario on the ground during Guardian Response 18.

The general's visit included a tour of task force command centers as well as a visit to training areas. These areas simulate a blast zone complete with engineered rubble piles and a landscape littered with mangled metal and personal effects.

On ground, rain beaded up and rolled off the haz-mat suits of a reconnaissance element of an urban search and rescue team positioned for initial entry into a collapsed structure, as Lengyel looked on during his tour. As beeps from the teams detection systems signified the presence of gamma radiation, muffled cries for help echoed between displaced cement blocks and crumbled vehicles.

In a training environment as real as it gets, the reality of the important role responders play in preserving life and minimizing suffering sinks in for one Soldier.

"As our mission here progresses, and we keep doing what we're doing, it really sank in that what we do, or could potentially do, is going to be for the everyday American citizen, and I take pride and value in that," said Sgt. Aaron Thompson, security officer with the Maryland National Guard's 231st Chemical Company.

The site of a devastated community and displaced civilians is an experience many have familiarity with from their response to various hurricane relief efforts. While those experiences lend some lessons learned, this training scenario delivers a much more volatile event.

"With hurricanes we can somewhat anticipate and have time to prepare," said Lengeyl. "In an event like this you can't see it coming, so you have to be able to respond basically with no notice to an event that is very complicated. In this particular event where there is radiation and it's physically dangerous just to be in the vicinity." 

Planning, delivering, and sustaining forces on the ground are just as critical as the boots on the ground.

"We have to be able to come together and use our training to make sure we have the right capability at the right place," said Lengyel. "We come together so that the force actually doing the response can keep themselves safe and we can do what we need to do to respond to that incident itself."

Lengyel's visit demonstrates the importance of this type of interagency training and impacts conversations at the Pentagon as an advisor to the Secretary of Defense. He provides insights on the needs of the National Guard in answering the nations call to the issues impacting Citizen-Soldiers' work-life balance as reserve components make up nearly 50 percent of the U.S. military.

Those conversations include the feedback he receives from the Soldiers during visits like this. The day's tour of exercise operations included sharing a lunch of Meals, Ready-to-Eat with members of the South Carolina National Guard, who asked questions regarding benefits from retirement to tuition assistance. 

Lengyel came with a message of thanks to the men and women, their families, and their employers that support their service and conveyed a commitment to developing a lethal and innovative force. He took time to recognize Soldiers who earned various military coins for their distinguished efforts during the exercise.

Exercise training operations will continue here until April 25. In total about 40 units from U.S. states and territories are participating including major headquarters elements: U.S. Army North, Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Joint Task Force Civil Support, Fort Eustis, Va.; 46th Military Police Command, Michigan National Guard, Lansing, Mich.; and 76th Operational Response Command, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Vibrant Response is an annual U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear (CBRN) Response Command Post Exercise. Taking place at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, the exercise brings together service members and civilians from military, federal, and state agencies from throughout the continental United States for three weeks of collective training on responding to a catastrophic event.