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Col. Barry Fowler, Region VII defense coordinating officer, coordinates with a role-player as Col. Chris Mitchell observes.

Members of a U.S. Army North element recently found themselves in a unique position - serving as both teachers and students during a week-long exercise in Norfolk, Va.

As students, the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region VII Defense Coordinating Officer and Element practiced their mission of bringing federal military resources to support a state during an emergency.

As teachers, the team shared their expertise with a new ARNORTH reserve defense coordinating element about to assume a similar mission.

The nine-day exercise, which began Feb. 26, was a learning experience for all, said Colin Kennedy, senior operations analyst for the region VII element.

"We rehearsed our processes and procedures, but we also were able to mentor, teach and expose the new reserve DCE to what we do," Kennedy said.

Members of the new element worked alongside their more experienced counterparts to set up operations, integrate with civilian officials and process requests for assistance, also known as mission assignments, he said.

The new element's commander said he felt lucky to learn the ropes from Col. Barry Fowler. Not only is he ARNORTH's senior DCO, Fowler also is a former head of the Battle Command Training Program, one of the Army's premier training organizations, said Col. Chris Mitchell.

"Col. Fowler's team also includes a lot of senior military and civilian personnel," Mitchell added. "They have a well proven and validated standard operating procedure, which we adopted as our own. We were fully integrated into their scheme of operations and learned how to conduct day-to-day operations in an active joint operations area."

For his part, Fowler said he values training so much that he exercises his unit at every possible opportunity. In fact, he said, training events are often more stressful than the real-world response missions he's experienced.

"A rigorous exercise like this gives me a high degree of confidence that when we get back to Kansas City, we will be able to deploy into any disaster situation and accomplish the mission," he said.

Before the end of the exercise, the new reserve element will assume the mission to practice what they learned, Fowler added.

"I want the new team to leave here with the academic and hands-on experience of what occurs in a defense coordinating element," Fowler said. "I want them to understand how we process requests from the civilian agencies, to experience the friction and confusion of commanding and controlling forces, and to practice working alongside state and federal agencies, National Guard troops and other responders."

Mitchell said he and his team are scheduled to undergo their own certification exercise in April and will be prepared before the 2009 hurricane season to provide additional capability if all other defense coordinating elements are committed.

Page last updated Fri March 6th, 2009 at 11:26