MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. - Throughout the past year, members of the 231st Chemical Company based at Camp Fretterd Military Reservation, near Reisterstown, Maryland, participated in multiple disaster scenarios, clocking countless hours of classroom instruction and field training, in preparation for the three week Army disaster response exercise Guardian Response 18, linked to Vibrant Response 18.
The specialized 130-person chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) unit is among nearly 5,200 military and government civilian personnel spread throughout Indiana training, testing, and being validated on their CBRN disaster response tactics.
"Once we are notified of a large scale CBRN incident we are responsible for confirming or denying the presence of chemical contaminants and our ability to set up and conduct detailed personnel and equipment decontamination," said Capt. Aaron Stutts, commander of the 231st Chem. Co.
For the second year, the 231st has assumed command and control of the CBRN response element, also called C2CRE. This means the unit stands ready to deploy with little notice in response to CBRN activities that could range from a derailed train car to a nuclear threat.
The unit is trained to respond within the first 72 hours of an incident while working with local first responders and alongside units from multiple states, said Lt. Col. Michael Taluskie, commander of the 581st Troop Command.
During Vibrant Response 18 and Guardian Response 18, the training buildup to become C2CRE paid dividends when the unit entered the simulated blast zone in Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Indiana ready to perform their job. CBRN specialists were able to quickly set up equipment and execute proper decontamination and triage under the watchful eyes of U.S. Army North evaluators.
"The nature of our mission [here] is to respond to any event domestically that requires decontamination of large quantities of people," said Sgt. Aaron Thompson, safety officer in the 231st Chem. Co. "This training has by far been the most realistic the company has seen."
The training environment resembles a scene from an episode of the 'The Walking Dead.' The landscape is littered with metal, personal effects, and actors playing displaced civilians to provide a little real-world pressure and scenario immersion for the unit.
"It [the environment] certainly brings an element of realism to what they have been doing," said Taluskie. "If they [231st Chem. Co.] were to walk into either a chemical attack or some other attack, where their response is needed, it could look something very similar to this where stuff is thrown all over the place or maybe the roads aren't as passable."
Thompson commented that the reality of this scenario pushed members of 231st to put all of their practice and training for C2CRE over the past year to the test.
"The line that started this mission was 'were here on America's worst day' and on a personal level I initially dismissed that," said Thompson. "But as the mission progressed and we kept doing what we're doing, it really sank in that what we do, or could potentially do, is going to be for the everyday American citizen."
Last year the unit practiced with a purpose to maintain their C2CRE status, allowing the 231st to achieve a perfect score by U.S. Army North. This is helpful when we recertify, added Stutts.
"This year the unit has performed up to standard and exceeded it," said Stutts. "We have come a long way."