Guard, reserve, civilians join forces at Vibrant Response

Monday, October 01, 2012

More than 200 observer/trainers supported the recent Vibrant Response exercise held at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center and Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex, Ind., providing training, feedback, and ensuring adherence to standards throughout the emergency response exercise.

The exercise confirms the operational readiness and tactical capabilities of specialized military forces tasked with responding to natural and man-made incidents in support of local, state, and federal civilian agencies.

First Army supported U.S. Army North’s critical goal of training various civilian, National Guard, Army Reserve and active duty military emergency response personnel to work together efficiently.

"We are the Army’s most cost-effective solution to train others," Lt. Gen. J. Michael Bednarek, commanding general, First Army, said.

Adding, "As an Army, we share in the sacrifice of all Americans during this period of fiscal uncertainty and must shape the Army of 2020 with an understanding of both our national security obligations and the fiscal constraints we all share."


Command and communication

First Army’s mission, to train and validate Army National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers to deploy to places like Afghanistan, Kosovo and the Horn of Africa in support of combatant commanders worldwide, gives its observer/trainers a unique understanding of what senior leaders need.

Maj. Todd Herrick, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, First Army Reserve Support Command, Rock Island, Ill., explained that before a reserve component unit can go on a mission they have to be validated, which is what First Army does.

Herrick said First Army has the expertise and understanding of command and communication; it is one of their core competencies.

By developing a collection plan, implementing it, and then taking the results to senior leadership, First Army ensures units are ready to respond confidently to either a local or global crisis.

As an added bonus, many Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers work as civil servants within their community.

This helps to bridge the communication gap between civil and federal response, said Herrick, who was an observer/trainer for the 415th Chemical Brigade, Greenville, S.C.

"Any reservist who is a policeman, or fireman, or EMT, or works on a city council, who also wears a uniform, and comes down and watches this exercise, they should see very familiar activity," Herrick said. "They can see how that’s going to flow from the civilian side into the federal response."


In the field

The observer/trainer’s primary mission is to make sure soldiers execute their individual and common tasks to standard and serve as mentors and trainers to the soldiers participating in Exercise Vibrant Response 13.

"The National Guard unit is doing very well utilizing its resources and personnel, as well as communicating with the incident commander," Sgt. John Stone, an observer/trainer with the 375th Chemical Company, a reserve unit from St. Louis, Mo., said, as he watched National Guard soldiers from the 208th Chemical Company, Springville, Ala., decontaminate a civilian exposed to radiological hazard during the exercise.

Stone, a special education teacher in Columbia, Mo., said providing feed-back to the units’ parent organizations will help ensure continuity among the Army Reserve, National Guard, and active component units identified to respond to dynamic events similar to the exercise.

Agencies take a phased approach to events like these. National Guard responds first. Active component responds within the first 96 hours and then 46 hours after that, reserve soldiers activate.


Behind the scenes

In its 13th iteration, Vibrant Response, a U.S. Army North national-level field training exercise, ended Aug. 17.

The training event was intended to exercise the ability to deploy, employ and sustain specialized military response forces upon the request of civilian authorities to save lives, relieve human suffering and prevent great property damage following a catastrophic chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear incident.

As some observers evaluate the ability of soldiers to complete their individual and common tasks, other observers monitor the ability of units to communicate vertically and laterally throughout the exercise so critical response elements are in the right place and the right time.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Dawn Blanchard, human resource, or HR, technician with First Army, Rock Island, Ill., monitored daily reports, radio transmissions, and other communication means to confirm communication was timely and accurate.

"Personnel is personnel. The HR world is all kind of related. If you’ve done it one place, it’s all going to carry over," Blanchard, who is a human resource specialist in her civilian life, said.

Blanchard said an eye-opener for her was how unprepared many of the units were to work in a joint environment.

"They’re use to working with their own service, their own branch. They forget joint; they forget they are working with civilian agencies and other services that have other procedures," Blanchard said.

Adding, "They might have a casualty, and they know the process for their branch, for their service, but what about a different branch of service, what are the steps they need to take. Those are the things they need to look at because they have to know all of them."

Blanchard said she was impressed with the unit she’s observed and how they’ve handed real-world issues during the exercise.

"Even in an exercise like this we’re dealing with real-world and exercise. There’s still stuff all the HR personnel work that happens real-world that we’re dealing with. We’re sending people home – there are Red Cross messages that continue to come in," Blanchard said.

"So, when you’re working an exercise like this you have to be able to differentiate between what is really happening and take care of those things and all the exercise stuff. It’s kind of works together, so you get more experience," she added.