U.S. Army North participated in Vigilant Shield 09 Nov. 12 - 18, along with U.S. Northern Command, Joint Task Force Civil Support, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal, state, local and international agencies.

Vigilant Shield is an annual exercise that includes scenarios to achieve objectives within the maritime, aerospace, ballistic missile defense, cyber, consequence management, strategic communications, and counter terrorism domains.

One scenario in this year's exercise was a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck California, killing and injuring thousands of people, leaving millions without power and destroying the southern portion of the state's infrastructure.

"This exercise was a collaborative effort between the state of California, the National Guard Bureau, NORTHCOM and FEMA to respond to whatever scenarios are presented to them during the exercise," said Lt. Col. Dan Clark, battle captain, U.S. Army North Operational Command Post 2.

"A big part of the exercise is when NORTHCOM needs to use their joint forces land component command [Army North]. ARNORTH responds and gets to exercise its subordinate units, JTF-CS and Joint Task Force-North (JTF-N)," said Clark. "It's not just ARNORTH training; we have to get our subordinate units into the scenario, too."

The planners designed the exercise situation to focus on homeland defense and civil support.

It was the largest catastrophic disaster exercise California has ever been a part of, according to a statement released by the governor's office.

"The great advantage of these exercises is that everyone who participates in them is much better trained and prepared to do their mission than they were prior to the exercise," said Kevin Kirmse, senior exercise planner, U.S. Army North.A,A

More than 400 people from Army North participated in the exercise with augmentation from personnel from other units across the United States, some of whom acted as exercise observers.

"With the assistance of organizations like Battle Command Training Program, the command gets a very good look at itself and receives a comprehensive after-action review that individuals, sections and organizations can use during operational command post, and defense coordinating element exercises, and during prime time training as well," Kirmse added.

"The only element that really lacks during these exercises is the confusion that would normally set in after something terrible happens," Clark said. "There is no real way to replicate exactly what any real-world event is going to be like."

"I truly think [the exercise] was successful because of the learning opportunities everyone received from participating -- many lessons learned came from this exercise," said Kirmse.