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NEWS | May 16, 2007

Stressed to the Seams, Alaska Shield still holds its Northern Edge

By Sgt. 1st Class Jack Holt

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - "You get out of it what you build into it," said Col. Jerry Kidrick, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Joint Forces Headquarters-Alaska National Guard. Kidrick was speaking about the training exercise Alaska Shield/Northern Edge which wraps up today.

Alaska Shield is a bi-annual exercise that began in 2005 and was combined with Northern Edge, an annual training exercise which has evolved over the years from Jack Frost in 1975, Brim Frost in the 1980's and Arctic Warrior exercises in 1991. The first Northern Edge exercise kicked-off in 1993 and was designed to be an internal training event for the Alaska Command (ALCOM) headquarters and component headquarters staffs. They emphasized the two-tier joint task force concept by focusing on joint operations, campaign planning and logistics planning. Alaska Shield/Northern Edge is a joint training exercise designed to test military and civilian responses and coordination capabilities should multiple terrorist attacks occur throughout the state of Alaska.

"The difference between Alaska Shield 2005 and '07 is the ATAACA," said Maj. Gen. Craig Campbell, The Adjutant General of the Alaska National Guard and Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Military & Veterans Affairs. ATAACA is the Anti-Terrorism All hazards Advisor Council, a joint state-Federal coordinating body co-chaired by Maj. Gen. Campbell and the U.S. Attorney for Alaska.

"In '05, we stood up the ATAACA but we had no rules. We focused on response with no (contingency operations) plans," Campbell added. "We realized the executive committee needed guidance. This year the ATAACA was more mature. The same players who had been working together in planning were working together in executing our plan."

The plan Maj. Gen. Campbell spoke of is the Energy Sector Contingency Operations (ConOps) Plan developed by the State of Alaska.

"The plan was drafted by the state and adopted by ATAACA. It was this plan that drove the scenarios we used in the exercises to validate our concept," Campbell said.

Col. Kidrick explained that they discovered some shortcomings at the state level. "We discovered new command and control issues between the state and Guard command cells. We discovered our new JOC (Joint Operations Center) is only a partial step towards a solution. The next step will be to fully integrate the command and operation cells."

Physical location created other problems. "In '05 the JOC and the State Emergency Command Center (SECC) couldn't even find each other and they were in the same building," said Maj. Gen. Campbell. "This year we built a new JOC across the hall from the SECC and found that even then the hallway became a barrier to communication. We've demonstrated that they've got to be one; completely integrated."

"This has been a very positive exercise for our soldiers and airmen," said Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Katkus, Commander of the Alaska Army National Guard. "I am very satisfied. We had a very well laid out plan and we validated that plan."

"I watched the coordination between the ALCOM commander and our Adjutant General and it was very positive. They worked hand in glove," Katkus said. "We were exercised to our full capacity without overstressing our resources; we never lost our ability to perform in accordance with the National Response Plan."

Col. Kidrick noted some other deficiencies and assets they discovered. "We also found some difficulties in blending our Army and Air National Guard assets, but we also learned of some capabilities each brings to enhance our overall response capabilities. We learned of some weapons and skill sets the Air Guard has that will enhance our abilities to protect critical infrastructure."

"We participated in two mass casualty exercises and learned the Unified Command that needs to function will need guidance," said Kidrick. "At the North Pole Industrial Complex the response was not well coordinated mostly because of a lack of knowledge about what we could do for each other."

That is one of the areas the exercise was designed to discover. According to Maj. Gen. Campbell the ATAACA executive committee has a private sector partnership group whose job it is to engage Alaska's main industrial sectors to assess and identify needs to include in future contingency operations plans. The oil industry and its infrastructure are designated critical to homeland security and therefore one of the first contingency plans to be developed.

"It was my thought that if we were going to exercise something, let's exercise something we have already developed; our Energy Sector ConOps plan," Campbell added. "We either validate this plan or throw it away. If we can validate it we can then expand it."

When asked about the role of the private sector in the training exercise Kidrick said: "They have different concerns. For a private company that produces a product everyday taking time for training of this nature costs them.  It is hard for them to look past today to the possibilities of tomorrow. Understandably they are concerned with the bottom line but without their participation we have to build in training artificialities and that makes a difference for the Guard guys. It degrades the quality of the training and will impact our ability to help in a real world situation."

The ATAACA private sector partnership group had examined most of the requirements for the energy sector. "We understand that the company is going to protect the infrastructure to a certain point, and now we know what that point is," Campbell added. "And we have a better understanding of what they have and what they need and what we need to bring when we come to assist."

Kidrick acknowledged that the Joint Task Force Alaska (JTF-Alaska), the Homeland Security component of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), was instrumental in crafting the vignettes for this exercise. "There was large cooperation between the state and Federal agencies in the design of the scenarios."

"We were stressed to the seams, but the state (of Alaska) concept is to manage the response," said Kidrick. "This exercise was not nearly as robust as having a nuclear detonation in the middle of town (referring to the exercise Vigilant Guard taking place in Indiana also this month). The Alaskan response is to find and identify needs through a range of possibilities. Because of the 'tyranny of distance' we plan early, identify lanes that we may need assistance with and begin programming for the continuity of resources. We have definitely enhanced our capability to respond by being a full exercise participant in Northern Edge"

Katkus added, "We had adequate military forces to address every challenge laid out before us. The 'tyranny of distance' drives many things besides training and we have to be self-reliant. By the unity of command we achieved, our governor remained in control at all times and we had a unified presence at NORTHCOM through JTF-Alaska."

Most exercises jump right to the point of failure for the states so the Federal response can be tested and hence most state response assets don't get exercised. "I wanted to test the base," Campbell said. "We needed the state effort to happen to exercise and validate our plan. It allowed all participants to define their lanes. (Our Federal partners) should get gold stars. The JOC's worked well together, the coordination was superb."

"There has always been and will always be friction between the Federal and state agencies. The Adjutant General must be a strong 'states rights' general. I was at the table in the JTF - Alaska conference calls with NORTHCOM," said Campbell. "It really helped being at the same table. I think what we achieved causes us to not bring that friction to the table."

"It all comes together through ATAACA," Campbell added. "We set the response in motion, but it's the relationships we've built that are so important."

It is these relationships which build the Alaska Shield and keeps our Northern Edge sharp.