GUAM - The Hawaii National Guard participated in the final Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise of the year in Guam in late November.
Those making the trip included the 93rd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team (CST) and the Medical Detachment 1 section of its Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) section.
Vigilant Guard is a series of exercises held annually in each Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) region. The training program, sponsored by U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) with the National Guard Bureau, enables civilian-military first responders and emergency management personnel to evaluate their capabilities in the most realistic, large-scale disaster scenarios possible. This is the second time Vigilant Guard has been held in Guam.
"It is important for the 93rd CST to participate in Vigilant Guard because we operate in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) area of operations and, based on our island location and geography, we need to be able to respond to other locations and support our brethren here in Guam," said Capt. Nathaniel J Calio, 93rd CST, operations officer. "We gain the opportunity to increase our interoperability with other partners through this exercise."
For the FEMA Region 9 iteration of Vigilant Guard, the scenario was a Category 5 hurricane and a domestic terrorism plot. Guam's first responders and the Guam National Guard had to seek support from outside the territory. Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Alaska and Utah provided help in the form of Homeland Emergency Readiness Response Force (HERF), CERFP and CST units. These units consist of specially trained Soldiers and Airmen who help reduce human suffering and mitigate risk, and a vast array of equipment and vehicles. All the equipment and manpower was airlifted to Guam as it would be in a real disaster.
"For this response, we were fortunate to do a unit fly away," said Sgt. 1st Class Chalcedony Silva, 93rd CST, Logistics NCO. "We brought four of our vehicles, one being our communication vehicle, which allows us to establish communications and access to the internet. We were also able to bring the survey vehicle, which contains monitoring and sampling equipment."
"Hawaii's readiness increases when we participate in exercises like Vigilant Guard because we get to interact with different agencies and other units," said Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Baqui, 93rd CST, CBRNE NCO. "It forces us to step outside our comfort zone and mesh with other people and figure out new operational procedures and tactics to solve a complex problem."
In the scenario, Hawaii's CERFP Medical Airmen provided casualty collection, triage and decontamination support to a collapsed structure where there was chemical contamination.
Organizers of Vigilant Guard strive to keep each exercise as realistic as possible to push responders and expose potential shortfalls so participating organizations do not become complacent.