First responder skills, professionalism on display during nuclear disaster exercise
Maj. Gen. Michael Smith (right), First Army deputy commanding general for support, watches Spc. Daniel Serrano and Pfc. Karla Figueroa, both of the Army Reserve's 311th Quartermaster Company from Puerto Rico, use makeup to simulate injuries on a manikin during the Vibrant Response exercise being conducted at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Ind., Aug. 3, 2013. Vibrant Response simulates the detonation of nuclear devices in two Ohio cities and uses manikins, along with human role players, to replicate casualties.

MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. (Aug. 13, 2013) -- The world is still a very dangerous place, noted a two-star general after coming here to visit the Vibrant Response exercise, which simulates the detonation of nuclear bombs in two Ohio cities.

"We do have enemies, and there are threats to our nation and our security," said Maj. Gen. Michael Smith, First Army deputy commanding general for support, following his tour Aug. 3, of the Vibrant Response training area. "It is important that we be able to respond to natural and man-made disasters."

Vibrant Response, which has been held annually since 2008, tests the emergency response capabilities of military personnel and various local, state and national agencies. Mentoring the military units to help them improve their efficiency and efficacy are specially-trained First Army Soldiers, called observer-controller/trainers, or O/C-Ts.

"A good O/C-T is someone who, first, is a good listener and a good student, and who is able to articulate themselves in a concise way," Smith said. "They are able to work with the commander and understand the exercise and what is meant to be trained and tested. They can then observe, provide some coaching, and then provide effective feedback. The unit knows that feedback is coming from someone who is looking out for their best interests and will assist them in becoming better. The O/C-T forms a very strong relationship with the unit being trained."

Although First Army normally trains Army National Guard and Army Reserve units for deployments, First Army's mission includes training, advising and assisting reserve-component forces before they mobilize.

"Vibrant Response clearly fits into those responsibilities," Smith explained. "That's what First Army is doing here. We provide O/C-Ts to assist the commanders, to provide valuable insight and to help them assess their units. Are they achieving the objectives the commander has set, to the standards that are required? It gives really good indicators as to the proficiency of the unit."

The Vibrant Response training is impressive, Smith said.

"This was as realistic an environment as you can see, replicating collapsed buildings, derailed trains, mass casualties, and contaminated areas, all which require specialized technical skills to respond in a rapid, yet safe, manner," he said. "When you're dealing with a contaminated area, you want to ensure that the responders don't become a casualty. The training I saw was first-rate. It really challenges the unit going through."

Smith explained that, while city, county, and state assistance would come before military aid in a disaster response, the different Army components must be ready if called upon.

"When disaster strikes, the local police, ambulance and firefighters are the first responders," he said. "If it exceeds their capabilities, the mayor will reach out to the governor, and the governor can use his state assets to assist in matters such as firefighting, first aid, water purification and transportation. Traditionally, that has been done by the National Guard. But recent legislation allows the Army Reserve to also provide support of civil authorities."

And exercises like Vibrant Response help ensure readiness for those units.

"The Reserve Component has shown proficiency in warfighting skills over the last 10 to 12 years, working closely with the active component," Smith said. "We are now working to develop those same proficiencies in defense support of civil authorities, so we can assist them as requested in response to natural and man-made disasters."

Page last updated Tue August 13th, 2013 at 08:27