Army North exercises capabilities during Ardent Sentry 2011 national-level exercise
July 12, 2011
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas " In a nationwide exercise, U.S. Army North, as a part of U.S Northern Command and other units from around the nation, responded to what many consider one of the greatest threats to the United States: a possible earthquake along the New Madrid Seismic Zone, a 150-mile fault zone roughly parallel with the Mississippi River in parts of seven states: Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee.
In the national-level exercise, Ardent Sentry 2011, personnel from U.S. Army North, the Joint Force Land Component Command to U.S. Northern Command, conducted 24-hour operations May 16-19 to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency in response and recovery efforts following a simulated 7.7 magnitude earthquake that devastated much of the area in the seismic zone and overwhelmed state efforts.
“Our primary task is to assist local authorities with saving lives and mitigating suffering,” said Col. John Tulley, assistant chief of staff for plans, operations and training, U.S. Army North. “In the case of the New Madrid Seismic Zone, it’s not ‘IF’ it will happen " it’s ‘WHEN’ it will happen.”
This year marked the 200th anniversary of the 1811 New Madrid Seismic Zone earthquakes, which were recorded as some of the largest earthquakes to strike the continental United States.
Coordinating lifesaving and life-sustaining efforts with local, state and federal agencies, and different military commands and branches, is complex.
For the exercise, Army North (notionally or actually) activated eight defense coordinating elements: Region I, which is based out of Boston; Region III, based out of Philadelphia; Region IV, based out of Atlanta; Region V, based out of Chicago; Region VI, based out of Denton, Texas; Region VII, based out of Kansas City, Mo.; Region VIII, based out of Denver; and Region X, which is based out of Seattle; along with two joint task force headquarters: Joint Task Force " Civil Support, based out of Fort Monroe, Va., and Army North’s Joint Task Force 51 at Fort Sam Houston, and deployed them to the eight affected states to assist in relief operations.
Personnel established five incident support bases in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee; provided air assets and personnel for medical evacuation, search and rescue and other missions; provided communications teams to coordinate initial response efforts in Memphis, Tenn., Paducah, Ky., St. Louis, Mo., and Little Rock, Ark.; set up temporary medical facilities in Missouri and Tennessee; provided an air traffic control operations capability in Missouri; and coordinated efforts among more than 1,900 DoD Title 10 forces from around the country to support disaster relief operations.
Army North personnel performed command, control and sustainment of the command’s defense coordinating elements and the large Title X federal force that deployed into the disaster area.
“We coordinate operations in the Combined Operations and Intelligence Cell,” said Sgt. 1st Class Natividad Ruiz, operations noncommissioned officer, Army North. “It’s an operations center with big screens like a NASA control room.”
During the exercise, Ruiz said he took requests for forces and requests for information and made sure personnel and assets were sent where they were needed most. He said the hardest part of his job is second-guessing himself.
“Sometimes you wonder, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’” Ruiz said. “That’s why this exercise was so beneficial " because we were scrutinized and got feedback on how we’re doing.”
The training process was critical for success, Tulley said.
“For the same reason you practice before a game, training prepares us for the real deal,” Tulley said. “This exercise allowed us to further develop and rehearse this scenario and, even though this exercise was an earthquake scenario, it helps us to prepare for other disasters, such as hurricanes, flooding, a terrorist attack, etc. Army North is America's insurance policy for the homeland, so it's important to periodically review and update that policy.”
When requested, DoD forces deploy to affected states where they are needed the most. The primary agency identifies those locations in a mission assignment to the Army North defense coordinating officer. Potential requests for assistance could include: incident awareness and assessment; search and rescue, air delivery, transportation and logistics; public affairs, public communication support; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear support; power generation and civil engineering support.