Pfc. Jeffery Morgan, a Soldier assigned to the 178th Engineer Company from Fort Polk, La., explains how the unit stabilized a collapsing building during the Vibrant Response 13 field training exercise at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Ind., July 31. The Soldiers attempted role-players, acting as survivors to a simulated nuclear-blast attack during the annual field training exercise conducted by U.S. Northern Command and led by U.S. Army North. The exercise involves more than 9,000 service members and civilians at 11 training sites and airfields in Indiana and Kentucky.

The annual Vibrant Response exercise brought together civilian, National Guard, Reserve and active duty military responders after a (simulated) 3,000 pound dirty bomb exploded at a train station in a major U.S. city. Hours later, two more radiological devises, as well as a possible nuclear device, also were detonated in the city. Training various emergency response personnel to work together efficiently is one of the critical missions for U.S. Army North and was supported by First Army.

Within minutes of the first incident, nearly 9,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Department of Defense civilians descended on central Indiana to exercise the DoD's ability to respond effectively to a possible terrorist attack in the United States. While these groups responded to the chaotic scenario, First Army Soldiers supported the exercise, providing trainers and mentors.

"In First Army, we are trainers, first and foremost. That experience and skill set is important in the tasks we are conducting here to support this exercise," Col. John F. Dunleavy, commander of the 205th Infantry Brigade, First Army Division East, at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, Ind. "First Army pulls Soldiers from a vast number of fields, who have a myriad of knowledge and experience that they bring with them, their skills afford First Army the ability to offer the units we train the most up-to-date and relevant feedback."

First Army provides the senior level guidance and direction for the exercise. Brig. Gen. Kendall W. Penn, deputy commanding general, First Army, serves as the deputy exercise director. Dunleavy and Col. Brandt Deck, commander of the 157th Infantry Brigade, First Army Division East, Camp Atterbury, Ind., both work as senior training mentors for First Army observer controllers at Vibrant Response. First Army also provided more than 200 observer controllers for the emergency response exercise.

"Most of our trainers are covered down on the mission command side of the response planning and processing because we have some very unique and skilled experts in the military decision-making process and staff actions process. That has been our principle role," echoed Lt. Gen. J. Michael Bednarek, commanding general First Army, as he toured the Indiana training center.

In its 13th iteration, Vibrant Response, a U.S. Army North national-level field training exercise continues through Aug. 17. The training event is 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.

"The critical issue involves not only what these organizations bring to the fight. Every organization, regardless of who they are, has unique capabilities," Bednarek said. "However, right next to those unique capabilities, they also have specific limitations. The more you work together to understand an organizations capabilities and limitations, the better off you will be."

That ability to coalesce into a cohesive team to save and protect American lives is paramount, because these emergency response elements do not live and work together every day. Training opportunities like Vibrant Response remain critical in ensuring all agencies are prepared to work together and understand their mission and how it interacts with other organizations missions when the nation calls.

"Everybody has a boss, so to speak, in the sense of who they report to. It is very important, when you get all of those players involved (first responders, local, state, federal, inter-agency), that they all have a unity of effort, even though they may not necessarily be a unity of command. All these agencies will never report to one single individual. It's too complex, too broad, and too large. But they definitely have to have unity of effort, all moving towards the same common goal, which, of course, is saving lives, safety and restoration to normalcy for that particular incident," Bednarek said.

The exercise is spread across various locations in Indiana, including the Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center and Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex. The exercise features realistic venues, fire, and smoke effects, mannequins and civilian role-players to simulate a demanding disaster environment. Two of First Army Division East's training brigades located at Camp Atterbury, the 205th and 157th Infantry Brigades, provided trainer mentors throughout the exercise. Providing trainer mentors for Vibrant Response 13 fit perfectly into First Army Division East's mission, to train and validate Army National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers for deployment or other contingency operations worldwide. The brigades also train active Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps elements along with selected members of the interagency and intergovernmental departments and United States partner nations.

Bednarek said the environment and resources at Atterbury and Mascatatuck made it the perfect place for the exercise.

"From disasters to a building collapse to fires to floods, you can do it all here. And you can train unique capabilities such as underground search and rescue, ruble piles, radar, and integrating downed power, no power, all the disruption of local services, medical responders, fire, power, water generation, and then having an incident commander there to try and direct all of these agencies and organizations that have a different chain of command. Also, there are organizations that just want to volunteer to help," Bednarek said. "To replicate all that in an exercise of this magnitude is pretty important so that all those individuals that are coming together in the exercise can see the complexities, grow to understand each other, and learn how they can work together to get that common unity of effort to accomplish the mission."

Sgt. Denise Santos, an Army Reserve soldier with the 311th Quarter Master Company, 77th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 210th Reserve Support Group, was one of the Soldiers who added a little realism to Vibrant Response 13.

Santos and her fellow mortuary affairs soldiers, based out of Aquadilla, Puerto Rico, applied "wounds" to mannequins and civilian role-players during the 19-day catastrophic incident exercise.
"The more we make it non-simulated, the more they don't simulate," Santos told Bednarek as he toured the training site. "If they are just reading the scenario off the card -- 'he has a fracture in his right arm' -- then they can just talk their way through it. But when you show them, this is a wound you actually have to treat, and then they actually respond, they actually splint it."

This year was the largest Vibrant Response exercise to date, with about 9,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and DoD civilians participating in the exercise, and another 800 military and civilian personnel providing support.

Page last updated Fri August 10th, 2012 at 00:00