SEAGOVILLE, Texas - The 961st Engineer Battalion, participated in their third Defense Support of Civil Authorities tabletop exercise Feb. 25 to 28.
Main operations were run from the battalion headquarters in Seagoville, Texas, with a planning and engagement team. The battalion and its six companies in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas were issued localized scenario exercises to simulate reacting to requests from the local civil authorities.
The overall scenario was massive flooding from the Oklahoma and Arkansas border to the south and freezing rain and downed power lines to the north. The 15 local scenarios included rescuing civilians from an island, clearing debris and housing displaced civilians.
"What it's for is to, hopefully, ensure the units all the way down to company level are relevant, ready and trained to respond to a DSCA event if one should occur, whether it's a massive one like we've exercised today or if it's one unit being asked for one item of support," said Terry New, Regions 6 and 7 Civil Military Project Officer. "We want them to know what to do and not hesitate when they have the authority to do it or do something that is not in compliance with (United States Army Reserve Command) guidance or regulations. It's to protect the commanders as well as provide the best support to a civil authority."
New coordinated the exercise as a planning and engagement team with two other CMPOs, a legal representative and three personnel from the Homeland Operations Division from USARC.
"Mr. New identified they needed literally more people to help out so we invited two of the other Civil Military Project Officers and Homeland Division as a way to resource the CMPOs. We provide them doctrine, provide them some of the funding required for training and, in this instance, we came out to just provide that extra manpower, the extra help to conduct the operation," said Bob Stabb, emergency management specialist, Current Operations, Homeland Operations Division, USARC. "The CMPOs always lead these things, the CMPO is the nexus for all things DSCA for the units. So if a unit has a DCSA question or they need help in something DSCA or if they actually have to do a mission they should always reach out to their CMPOs. That CMPO is like a one-stop shop for them, it's their guy in the field so they always have someone to call."
The 961st Eng. Bn. is one of the first units to conduct DSCA training, but approximately 130 units will also be conducting workshops and training exercises.
"In our latest (Operation Order) ... we identified by (Federal Emergency Management Agency) region what the most likely threat is in that region that would require the Army Reserve to assist civilian authorities. In doing that when we identified the most likely threat we also identified the unit in that region that has the capability that would most likely be called on ... we then prioritized those units to receive DSCA training," said Stabb. "In some of the regions, we're providing a DSCA workshop so we can inform all those commanders in that region: these are the most likely threat hazards, here is the type of response that would be required and we'll run them through practical exercises for (immediate response) and deliberate response."
A workshop is one option, but other units will have more in-depth training similar to the 961st Eng. Bn.
"In some units, very high priority units, we're doing what we're doing here, a series of tabletop exercises culminating in a command post exercise and field training exercise," added Stabb. "One important thing about that is the CMPOs are able to support the TTXs or tabletop exercises, but once you get to that field training exercise it's just like any other annual training. They do all the support and all the resource requirements through their unit."
Units are trained in two different types of responses: immediate and deliberate.
"Immediate Response stems from when a local authority says, 'I need help right this minute. There's an emergency, I don't have enough people or time to handle it right this very second.' It's also a very localized thing," said Stabb. "We always joke getting Timmy out of the well. Somebody has got to do something right now. We call it the knock on the Reserve Center door."
There have been two instances of this in the past year, according to Stabb. One was a plane crash in Gaithersburg, Maryland, the other firefighting support in Spokane, Washington.
"Deliberate response comes really like any other mission tasking. It's a mobilization and just like a mobilization when you go overseas, this is a mobilization that comes from Forces Command and Forces Command says, "Army Reserve, go!' That's deliberate response, just like any other mission, any other time," added Stabb, a Boonville, New York, native.
The scenarios the 961st Eng. Bn. units simulated during this tabletop exercise were all immediate response situations.
Many of the units slated to train in DSCA response are other engineer units within the 412th and 416th Theater Engineer Commands.
"They are really stepping forward to become fully trained in something that's very realistic for them to end up doing," said Col. Bruce Fein, Judge Advocate, USARC and a Bronx, New York, native. "The engineer units are the assets that will be most in demand in domestic operations. You can never have enough trucks or heavy equipment."
Lt. Col. Maynard Spell, commander, 961st Engineer Battalion, first learned about DSCA during his battalion pre-command course. During this course, Stabb gave the future commanders a presentation on DSCA.
"It was a totally new concept for me," said Spell, a Meridian, Idaho, resident. "As he was talking I was thinking this could be a great avenue for me to use an outside agency, such as USARC, to assist in training my organization and meeting my goals and objectives with my staff and company team leadership."
"I followed up with him on the phone. I explained to him that each of the regions for the United States has a Civil Military Project Officer. I connected him to Mr. Terry New, the Civil Military Project Officer," said Stabb. "From there we coordinated what kind of training Col. Spell though would be best for his unit based on the specifics, being an engineer commander, with his (Mission Essential Task List) and how those tasks translate to Defense Support of Civil Authorities. As Mr. New and Col. Spell pointed out, whether they're moving debris here or they're moving debris overseas it's the same mission: you move debris."
Spell replaced his yearly training plan with DSCA training and has been conducting DSCA training every quarter. He has found this to be beneficial as the applications do not end with DSCA missions.
"It has been a win-win in that we're understanding the concepts in disaster relief associated with DSCA. Also, we're conducting training concepts we can apply to any training we do," said Spell. "They're really getting a very good understanding of troop leading procedures and how it can apply to real-world events."
His Soldiers were not expecting the challenge DSCA presented.
"I have had extremely positive feedback from our leaders and the Soldiers pertaining to this. Initially they thought this was going to be easy compared to what they are accustomed to training: training for contingency operations or combat operations or to be deployed," said Spell. "It was really exciting for me to see them really struggle when we first started this. Intuitively it has caused them to really study and get a better understanding of the intricacies of planning. It's really more about getting under the surface."
As the Army Reserve begins to take a more active role in DSCA events, the importance of training for disasters increases.
"The last thing anybody wants is if they should get the call to not know what to do. DSCA is second nature to the National Guard because that is their bread and butter. DCSA is relatively new to the Army Reserve. In turn we are just getting into it," said New. "These commanders have been fighting wars for the last 15 years so it's a matter of getting their mindset away from the warfighter to helping the civil population in the U.S. borders with a whole different set of rules."
"(The units should) have situational awareness so if a natural disaster were to occur and they were called on to respond, it's not the first time they've seen it," said Lt. Col. Solomon Speed, exercise planner for DSCA, Army Reserve Engagement Cell, U.S. Army North (Fifth Army). "So, they have the capabilities to respond, they understand the reporting requirements and they're fundamentally capable of saving lives."
The training value has been so great in Spell's eyes that he encourages Reserve units to take advantage of training in disaster response.
"I would hope more Reserve units take an honest look at and see how it can apply to their training methodology," said Spell. "This has taken nothing away from my normal business and how we do things. If it's done anything, it has enhanced our ability to perform."
Speed attended the 961st Eng. Bn.'s training to observe for ideas for integrating more DSCA training into exercises, building on the training and synchronizing it.
"It's important for them to go through this process as we in the Reserve gain credibility in DSCA response. We at ARNORTH are going to try to leverage this training so when we move forward for (U.S. Northern Command) exercises: Vigilant Guard, Vigilant Shield, Vibrant Response, Ardent Sentry, then we can say we have a unit that's been exposed and trained to meet larger requirements," said Speed, a Baltimore, Maryland, native.
Speed is already beginning planning larger requirements with the 961st Eng. Bn.
"The AREC's responsibility is to provide Army Reserve solutions to ARNORTH and NORTHCOM's operational gaps. The AREC achieves this goal by cultivating relationship networks to leverage Army Reserve capabilities in support of ARNORTH's campaign plan in order to maintain an Operational Army Reserve," said Speed. "Based on what I'm seeing here, there is a great opportunity in July to blend their FTX with a Vigilant Guard event in Vermont, so the idea is we can synchronize both these trainings through simulations or script writing."
The Army Reserve has a critical role in DSCA response and supports civil authorities across multiple hazards, threats and catastrophic events.