CAMP ETHAN ALLEN TRAINING , VT, - Participants in Vigilant Guard 2016 performed search and rescue operations at Camp Ethan Allen Training Site, July 29. Vigilant Guard is a national level emergency response exercise, sponsored by the National Guard and NORTHCOM, which provides National Guard units an opportunity to improve cooperation and relationships with regional civilian, military, and federal partners in preparation for emergencies and catastrophic events.
"In the scenario we were given, we had a victim that was halfway up a 120 foot cliff and we were able to walk to the top, rappel down and lower the victim to the ground and await an Army medevac for further treatment of the patient," said Shane Wheeler, a rescue specialist with Massachusetts Task Force 1, Urban Search and Rescue, Federal Emergency Management Agency.
As the situation unfolded, Soldiers from the Army Mountain Warfare School, 124th Regional Training Institute, Vermont National Guard, acted as lane safeties observing the participants.
"My job is to stop the action if it's going down a bad path or something is about to happen that's unsafe," said Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Dearborn, instructor, Army Mountain Warfare School. "For the most part, I try to stay out of their way and let them come up with their own technical solutions to the problem and help them do an AAR (After Action Review) at the end so they get the maximum learning out of it."
The Army Mountain Warfare School instructors also set up the simulated casualty on the cliff ledge for the exercise, said Dearborn.
The training itself was not something that the urban search and rescue teams had a lot of experience with.
"It gives people, who aren't typically in roles they'd be doing in the field, a chance to try out new roles and get comfortable with doing jobs they wouldn't normally do," said Wheeler.
Though they are not familiar with the specific environment, the Army Mountain Warfare School is.
"It was important to have a few of us out here that specialize in mountain rescue on a cliff site and wooded environment because there are some pretty key differences that the urban search and rescue groups don't necessarily have the complete skill set for," said Dearborn. "They're taking their techniques that they use and trying to apply them in a situation that's a little out of the norm for them."
While the training did take place on a cliff, it is still important for the urban teams to practice this specific skill set.
"It's a scenario that could potentially happen anywhere," said Wheeler. "It could be on the side of the building, it could be on a cliff or it could be really anywhere, so it's relative to any environment."
Regardless of the environment and differences, the team successfully completed the scenario.
"Their techniques are a little different than what we're used to doing, used to seeing, but overall it was safe, efficient and pretty smooth," said Dearborn.
The squads conducting the training accomplished the mission even though they consisted of individuals from different agencies and histories.
"It's important to note that everyone worked very well together with everyone's knowledge from varying backgrounds," said Wheeler. "We were able to get the job done efficiently and most importantly; none of the rescue personnel were injured."