Fort Campbell’s emergency preparedness was on full display when a violent attack was launched on the installation during a post-wide exercise conducted Aug. 17-18.
Soldiers and civilian employees alike lent their expertise to the scenario, which involved an active shooter at Building 6563, a forced entry at Gate 2 and attempted car bombings at Sabre Army Airfield. From the initial law enforcement response and medical evacuation to public affairs operations and crisis counseling, the exercise put both response and recovery plans to the test.
“Everybody has a role, and if this was to happen in the real world we’re going to make sure everybody is trained on what their procedures are,” said Patrick Jones, plans specialist, Fort Campbell Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. “We can have a plan all we want, but unless it’s exercised that’s all it is – a plan.”
The installation conducts a full-scale exercise every year to make sure those plans are effective. Representatives from U.S. Army Installation Management Command, or IMCOM, also attended to conduct an external evaluation and helped develop the scenario.
“We look at what the policies, plans and procedures are for the installation and we build an exercise based on the senior commander’s and the garrison commander’s objectives,” said Joseph Osborn, protection branch chief, IMCOM. “It’s a crawl-walk-run process that leads from tabletop exercises to a full-scale. The big thing we look for is whether they can contain the event, shorten the duration and speed recovery.”
IMCOM evaluates the installation’s full-scale exercises every two years, and personnel often use their feedback to improve emergency response procedures.
“We do our internal exercises all the time, but to have an external evaluator reviewing our processes is really valuable,” said Wayne Nims, operations chief, Fort Campbell Directorate of Emergency Services. “Every event is a training event, and we’re always looking for ways to improve our response to real-world situations.”
This year’s active attacker exercise placed DES at the forefront as its employees neutralized the threats and delivered on-site medical care. Lt. Nicholas Pietila, traffic supervisor, traffic management and collision investigations division, Installation Provost Marshal Office, served as the incident commander, working in partnership with the garrison’s command team at the Emergency Operations Center.
“The EOC is the installation’s point of coordination and synchronization,” said Dwight Smith, chief of plans and protection, Fort Campbell DPTMS. “The incident commander is on the ground, and he’s managing the incident in that specific area – in this case, two areas simultaneously. While he’s focused on the micro-picture, the EOC is focused on the big picture.”
That means navigating a crisis’s impact on the community at large, from evacuations and lockdowns to media inquiries and communications with higher headquarters.
“The EOC provides that single, clear picture of what’s happening on the ground to the garrison commander and senior commander,” Smith said. “That allows them to make decisions about protective actions and resourcing, and also funnels that information to those higher headquarters.”
Elements from across U.S. Army Garrison-Fort Campbell, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Army Field Support Battalion-Campbell worked together to operate the EOC during the exercise, creating a scaled-down representation of the entire installation.
“Another piece of that is the Joint Information Center, which is not physically in the EOC but is represented by the Fort Campbell Public Affairs Office,” Smith said. “It’s a much larger representation of PAO that’s monitoring social media, local media and national media, and that’s a combined effort between the division, Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, our PAO and even the public affairs detachment that’s a part of the installation.”
PAO also staged a press conference on the incident at the garrison headquarters with participation from Col. Anthony Q. Jordan, Fort Campbell garrison commander; Col. Vincent B. Myers, commander, U.S. Army Medical Department Activity Fort Campbell and Blanchfield Army Community Hospital; and Randy Durian, deputy director, DES.
Whether they were involved in response or recovery procedures, exercise participants gained valuable experience that ultimately contributes to Soldier and mission readiness, Jones said.
“There’s a lot of people out there you’ve got to get ready, trained and qualified, but their mental state is one of the most important parts of being mission ready,” he said. “These types of events show them that we know what they’re doing and how to effectively combat that type of situation, and I think it definitely gives them some peace of mind to know that if they deploy, their loved ones are going to be taken care of.”