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NEWS | Aug. 30, 2011

California Guard members tackle Vibrant Response 12

By Army Spc. Edward Siguenza California National Guard

MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING COMPLEX, Ind. - If this was real, Cincinnati would be a wasteland. It would be incinerated by a greater act of terror than New York's World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

Thankfully, this was just a test. But to the eyes of the 49th Military Police Brigade, California Army National Guard, it's preparation.

Conducted by U.S. Army North, Vibrant Response 12 simulated a nuclear detonation in a densely-populated Ohio city. This large-scale training event held Aug. 18 to 24 involved about 8,000 Soldiers, role-players and facilitators, including part of the brigade's command staff. For three days, the 49th functioned in an underground operations center and tested its command and control capabilities while being graded by Army North's special evaluators.

"This was critical training to see how we'll react to a major catastrophe in our own region,"Army Lt. Col. Robert Paoletti, the brigade's operations officer and Task Force Eureka commander, explained. "A tremendous amount of preparation and coordination are needed should such a tragedy occur. This is where we can test our systems and processes, and improve our capabilities."

Task Force Eureka was the Fairfield, Calif., unit's role-playing name. It commanded several units: West Virginia's Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Emergency Response Force Package, Michigan's 51st Civil Support Team, a notional CERFP and two additional CSTs.

The scenario: A 10-kiloton nuclear bomb explodes in Cincinnati. Although not as powerful as the atomic explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, during World War II, it prompts a nationwide reaction. Right away, Task Force Eureka responds with guidance from Task Force 81 from the Ohio National Guard.

Each of the brigade's command sections tested its limits: Personnel accountability of all units, intelligence operations, logistical support and communications launched to military and civilian authorities.

"It's really about talking," said Army Maj. Robert Parsons, communications officer. "We'll provide communications for people we'll be working with. We'll be setting up satellites and providing terrestrial [communications], such as internet and telephone lines."

The military police unit occupied the basement of a two-story building where old desks, tables and chairs were the only things available. Once on site, quick coordination was essential.

"It normally takes days to get a [tactical operations center] running proficiently," an Army North evaluator said. "The 49th did it in less than two hours."

The brigade fell under Meridian Command, with incident commander, Jim Covington, providing direction. As different scenarios came in to test their reaction they either passed them to their capable subordinate units or channeled them upward for guidance.

"The California [Homeland Response Force] and this incident command post had interacted well together," Covington said. "The performance by the California HRF has been exceptional. The key piece here has been the coordination between the on-scene incident commander and California HRF. We operated with great efficiency as far as I'm concerned."

"California's got the knowledge that there's a need for communication between the incident command, area command and the HRF," added the Army North representative. "What they can do is use their experience as an example for other HRFs to show how this operation needs to be conducted and how efficient and effective it can be when the coordination piece is there."

Indiana's Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex was an exceptional training site, Paoletti added.

Along with hundreds of role-playing volunteers, the 1,800-acre site mimicked a disaster area with scattered debris, overturned vehicles and neglected buildings equipped with smoke. Nearby, houses submerged in water simulated a flood for another type of training. But the vast area enabled other National Guard units to comfortably set up operations and perform post-nuclear training under U.S. Army North observers, controllers and trainers.

Vibrant Response 12 was critical in the brigade's effort to become a certified HRF. This is the first step – "the crawl phase" – with November's Vigilant Guard mission in Arizona being the next. Both exercises are vital preparation for an external evaluation next year.

"[The 49th] stepped right up to the mission. They were able to make all coordination required with civilian authorities," said Lt. Col. Randall Isom, commander of the Joint Interagency Training and Education Center, the evaluating and certifying command. "They took right off at the mission. They did command and control in a very good way."

Upon its August 2010 Operation Iraqi Freedom return, the brigade received a new mission: It would serve as the key military operations element of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Region IX, encompassing areas as far as Hawaii and Guam, in the event of a CBRNE catastrophe. To be the official leader, the 49th must be validated, Isom explained.

"They're going to find themselves, as a military entity, working with civilian authorities," Isom added. "To be able to handle that different type of information coming in, and being able to process it and get it out to the troops and everyone else who needs it, is a very difficult process."

United States Northern Command's Joint Force Land Component Command initiated Vibrant Response in 2009. Federal, military and civilian entities continue to utilize Vibrant Response as a major training to simulate terrorist attack responses, according to a U.S. Army North media advisory.

"From all the [evaluators], I heard the attitude and effort you put has been exceptional," Army Maj. Gen. Perry Wiggins, deputy commanding general of Army North and Vibrant Response deputy exercise director, told the 49th Military Police Brigade during its Aug. 18 mission hand off to Joint Task Force–Civil Support, an active-duty joint forces unit.

"The nation depends on you for this mission. This is a zero tolerance mission. The expectation was you're going to do it right the first time. You guys actually put forth the effort. You really set an impression on the folks who have been here."

"We leave here with the best impression that the California HRF can give," said Paoletti. "I've received nothing but positive comments from everyone. Not just on how we were operating, but the positive attitudes of all our soldiers. The impression everyone got about the California HRF is positive. We can work with anyone."



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