PERRY, Ga. - A woman screams out for her baby to wake up. A crowd shouts, demanding food. Others are looting stores and vandalizing cars. A city is in shambles.
On March 24, soldiers with 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, were the first to get the deployment alert. A 9.2 magnitude earthquake had hit Guardian City, and they needed to help control the streets by keeping residents away from collapsed buildings and guiding them to local and federal agencies providing food, water, medical services and shelter.
Two other battalions in the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team would be called on for this mission - 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment, and 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment- as part of Guardian Hammer, a weeklong, brigade-level Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise that brought the soldiers to the Guardian Centers in Perry, Ga., from March 25 to 28.
"With the [3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team] being assigned the regionally aligned force mission within the U.S. Northern Command area of operation, it's imperative that our soldiers know how to respond to disasters within the homeland," said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Green, the 3rd ABCT command sergeant major. "It's a paradigm shift for us, from the kinetic action to more of the civil, domestic response and we need all of the opportunity we can to be prepared for it in the event that we're called."
The sprawling 830-acre complex, nearly 100 miles east of Fort Benning, provided an environment for soldiers to see firsthand the various situations they may find themselves in during disaster response missions. Military and civilian role players acted as concerned residents, thugs and vandals, and media representatives.
"The military is trying to provide some kind of security for the organizations here that will provide food, water and all types of help for the natural disaster here at the city," said Staff Sgt. Ricardo Junco, the noncommissioned officer in charge of military role players with Company A, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion. "The soldiers are here to supervise and make sure nothing goes wrong, and then call on the proper civilian authorities."
Junco said his position in the exercise allowed him to guide the civilian role players in developing scenarios that were more fitting to what the soldiers would see in their roles during disaster response compared to other agencies.
Local and federal agencies, including police departments and FEMA, were on hand to provide their assistance as part of their own annual training requirements. Air support for simulated medical evacuations was provided by soldiers from the 2-3 General Support Aviation Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, based out of Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.
"A lot of soldiers have never had to do operations on the homeland, so training to conduct those operations for future [the USNORTHCOM] missions is essential," said Sgt. 1st Class Franklin Marquez, an observer controller with Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd BSTB.
The initial shock-and-awe of what the soldiers saw awaiting them in Guardian City quickly faded as they realized they needed to react quickly to help the residents who were looking to them for answers, said Marquez. "As the time continued, the soldiers got more comfortable with the different mission sets. They were really helpful."
For the soldiers, an EDRE was not a new concept. They have executed company- and battalion-level EDREs in the months leading up to Guardian Hammer.
"It's been outstanding," said Green. "Soldiers will do what we ask the soldiers to do. They never cease to amaze me, personally. As we give them more and more difficult missions, they figure out how to make it happen, and that's what it's all about-to give them the intent, the task and the purpose and to have them figure out how to make it happen the best way possible."