MARTINSBURG, W.Va. – They changed the tires on their equipment trailer, prepped their communication devices, loaded their urban search and rescue kits and headed south from Martinsburg to Charleston for Vigilant Guard 2021.
Vigilant Guard is an annual large-scale disaster response exercise sponsored by U.S. Northern Command with the National Guard Bureau, with support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This year, West Virginia hosted the event.
167th Airlift Wing firefighters — Tech. Sgt. Robert Laidlow and Staff Sgts. Mitch Alerding, Jared Feaster and Jeff Powers — prepared for and responded to Vigilant Guard as if it were a real-world event.
“We’re trying to improve our capabilities as far as responding to natural disasters within the state and within the region,” said Master Sgt. Christopher Taylor, 167th Civil Engineering Squadron fire chief.
The 167th Fire Department supports aircraft operations at Shepherd Field and provides mutual aid response to off-base emergencies.
“Vigilant Guard is a starting point for us. We’re testing our capabilities, testing our equipment and seeing where we’re at,” Taylor said.
The exercise scenario, a stalled hurricane hovering over West Virginia, provided an opportunity for the 167th firefighters to join with their 130th Airlift Wing and 178th Wing counterparts to hone their skills handling structural collapse, vehicle extraction, high angle rope rescue, surface water rescue and swift water rescue. They also watched demonstrations on how to care for animals impacted by floodwaters.
“Vigilant Guard offers the whole start-to-finish aspect,” Laidlow said. “My team got to do things we’ve never done before. It was a great week of training.”
Laidlow said Vigilant Guard enabled his team to practice initial notification, logistics, communications and reconstitution of lost or broken equipment and used supplies.
Following Vigilant Guard, the next steps for the 167th’s urban search and rescue program are to obtain additional certifications and essential equipment so the program can reach its full potential, Taylor said.