NAZARETH, Israel (Army News Service, April 25, 2008) - Israel's first national-level civil-defense exercise offered insights that National Guard officials said they could apply in the United States.

Members of the Israeli Defense Force's Home Front Command, the nation's equivalent of the National Guard, searched the wreckage of a collapsed three-story building on April 8 as Defense Minister Ehud Barack, U.S. National Guard Bureau Chief Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, HFC leader Maj. Gen. Yair Golan and other Israeli and U.S. leaders observed.

"The HFC has very similar duties and responsibilities to citizens in Israel as the National Guard has to its citizens in the United States," Blum said. "It's only right that we should share techniques and expertise and experiences so that we can both be better able to accomplish our missions."

<b> The Turning Point </b>

Turning Point 2, Israel's biggest-ever war drill, tested emergency response capabilities to large-scale missile attacks. The exercise included nationwide air raid sirens, school bombardment drills, emergency broadcasts, recall of reserve troops, rescue operations and simulated chemical attacks.

Watching HFC soldiers and civilian authorities search the rubble for 50 dummies hidden before the building was collapsed, Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito, the adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, reflected on rescue efforts after the Aug. 1, 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35 West Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis.

"Safety and time are two critical aspects of making sure that it's done right and efficiently," Shellito said.

The exercise reinforced things the Minnesota National Guard is doing right, such as its command and control procedures, Shellito said. It also prompted the adjutant general to reflect on how to create exercises back home with the same level of realism and how to continue to promote seamless cooperation between federal, state and local agencies in the aftermath of disaster.

Searchers quickly found about 20 of the dummies.

"What you find out in the rubble of a building in real life is that (bodies) you'll find within the first hours are the easy ones," said Col. Brent Feick, chief of the National Guard Bureau's future operations division. "It could take eight to 10 hours from then on to get one body because they have to dig down and it's a long process of cutting away rebar and moving large slabs with cranes and shoring up every entrance as you go."

National Guard members are trained for similar scenarios.

"Our 17 Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Explosive Enhanced Response Force Packages also do search and rescue and have the extraction capability," Feick said.

"The Israelis have been working with us the last three years to build a like capability. This strategic cooperation initiative helps both ways. It helps our guys see another way of going about business and we can also share some things that we've learned over the years, since Katrina especially," he said.

<b> Lessons Learned </b>

Lt. Col. Kimberly Sencindiver's responsibilities at the National Guard Bureau include training Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the Guard's Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Explosive Enhanced Response Force Packages.

Sencindiver compared Israeli and U.S. training and operation methods during TP2. She was intrigued by an area decontamination vehicle participating in TP2 at the Ministry of Defense headquarters in Kirya.

"It's very different than what we do in the CERFPs," Sencindiver said. "CERFPs strictly decontaminate individuals, with a secondary target of equipment or personal items that the individuals might have with them. We've never addressed decontaminating an area or a landscape or large articles before."

The Israeli vehicle is designed to decontaminate an area of ground such as a runway or a large object such as a building or vehicle. The decontamination bleach solution includes a chalk additive that marks the treated area so that it's easy to see what has been processed and what hasn't.

"It's going to be very interesting to take that back to the decontamination working group and say, 'OK, is this something we might want to look at in terms of our own operations''" Sencindiver said.

The vehicle wasn't the only possible lesson Sencindiver took away from TP2.

"The way that they handled their medical operations validated a lot of our thought-process," she said. "They had a couple of things that we could learn from. Their patient and evacuee tracking system uses digital photos, which is something that we're trying to incorporate."

The HFC's medical command center uses a central database linked to each of Israel's 24 hospitals with digital photos of patients and evacuees that make it easier for authorities to help families reunite in the wake of a disaster.

The HFC studio allows military leaders to broadcast on Israel's three national channels to get information such as what to expect and whether to shelter in place or evacuate out to the public during a crisis.

The exercise was a two-way street: Sencindiver said she saw ways the National Guard could help the HFC improve safety practices and technical procedures in the rubble of the collapsed building.

"We have found that the war on terror is universal," she said. "Everybody is trying to address it. Being able to help others and have them help us is going to be critical if something of huge magnitude occurs."

Guard leaders also observed how the HFC works with civilian authorities and shares civilian assets to supplement its own after a disaster.

"We're the last in and first out. That's our concept. In Israel, the HFC is almost always in there very quickly," Feick said.

State National Guards are building relationships with mayors, police departments and other agencies at the most local level, Feick said. The military service required of every Israeli has helped the HFC build close ties with local agencies.

<b> Mutual Appreciation </b>

"No matter where you are in the country, you have an appreciation for how the IDF and the HFC works," Feick said of the Israeli system. "The mayor of Nazareth knew to donate the building for this exercise because of his prior military experience. He knew that this would be an advantage to the brigade commander up here."

"The Israelis have a great respect for the United States, they value our opinion and they want feedback," Feick said. "It strengthens their confidence because talk is cheap, but when you're here physically, that speaks volumes."

"I've watched them over the last several years, and the Israelis continue to advance their capabilities to respond in a more effective and coordinated fashion," Blum said.

"Continuous exercise, training and practice are improving their capability."

Such visits have had tangible results for the National Guard, Blum said.

"The idea of the CERFPs largely came out of a visit to both the Marine Chemical-Biological Incident Response Force in the United States and what I saw here in the HFC. What we did was meld the best of both together and incorporate it in to our CERFP program. The Civil Support Teams that we have nest very nicely in that capability, and I think you'll see even more mutual exchanges and training and sharing of expertise between Israel and the United States over the coming years."

HFC leaders are expected to visit National Guard operations in the United States later this year.

Other leaders visiting Israel included representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Guard officers responsible for the oversight of the Guard's CSTs and its CERFPs and Maj. Gen. Frank Grass, U.S. European Command director of mobilization and reserve-component affairs.

The National Guard maintains bilateral relationships through U.S. European Command with Israel and other nations that are different from its 59-nation State Partnership Program. These initiatives are yielding regional collaborative activities that benefit the Guard and partner nations.

"Ultimately, hopefully we'll have almost a global cooperative effort when it comes to consequence management in response to weapons of mass destruction or natural disasters," Blum said.

(Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves with the National Guard Bureau. The CIA World Factbook and The Jerusalem Post contributed to his report.)

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16