Vicenza, ITALY - Before the sun rose over the Vicenza military community, U.S. Army Africa Soldiers responded to a natural disaster scenario that launched the activation of the emergency response group. It was a first for USARAF, a full-scale test of the unit's continuity of operations plan.
The purpose behind COOP is to ensure USARAF members are capable of performing their mission essential functions after a debilitating event, either man-made or natural disaster, which degrades or destroys primary workspaces.
"COOP is one of the most complex problems I've planned during my Army career," said Maj. Nicholas Dewey, the USARAF COOP lead planner. "You're moving people, equipment and establishing workstations, and throughout all the chaos, you need to figure out how to maintain operations on the continent because people are relying on you."
The requirement to maintain a COOP capability is a presidential and Army directive to ensure MEFs never waver. While USARAF has always maintained the blueprints, this was its first time putting the plan into action.
On the morning of Jan. 23, an earthquake served as the catalyst that drove the problem set, triggering a unified response throughout the command.
Soldiers and Army civilians reported for duty and the USARAF engineering team deemed the operations building unsafe, resulting in the need to jump operations to a safe location.
The Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion staff raised a tent to establish an immediate mission command node for both garrison and forward operations, while simultaneously launching elements of the torch party to the contingency operating base.
The personnel section received accountability reports and prepared for reception and integration activities at both locations, while the signal section quickly brought computers online to enable intelligence and operations personnel to maintain situational awareness of ongoing activities in Africa.
The logistics team began coordination to move more than 100 personnel from Del Din to their contingency location and assist with the reception and integration of personnel.
Most importantly, in less than 12 hours from notification to the occupation of the contingency site, the USARAF ERG assumed operations of mission essential functions for operations in Africa.
"We're really happy with how everything went," said Capt. Michael J. Martinez, USARAF early entry command post communications officer in charge. "As soon as we got onsite, we started setting up systems and services so follow-on forces could do their job. Communication is a huge part of this exercise and the whole signal team did a great job."
Day two of the exercise started with a situational update brief of ongoing activities, scheduled battle rhythm events and problem scenarios to drive staff actions while still performing mission essential functions.
"It felt good to look around and see everyone clicking on all cylinders," said Dewey. "It all goes back to rehearsals. Amateurs practice until they can get something right, where as professionals practice until they can't get it wrong."
As the day progressed, Soldiers demonstrated their ability to perform their duties while also navigating problem scenarios, validating proof of concept in the COOP.
The day concluded when the MEFs were turned over to the Del Din steady state operations team and end of exercise was announced.
Day three was highlighted by a thorough after action review and redeployment of all personnel and equipment back to the Vicenza military community.
As the sunset on the trail party as they returned home, USARAF did what it set out to do. For the first time ever, they validated the continuity of operations plan.