ZUTENDAAL, Belgium — Members of U.S. Army Garrison Benelux’s emergency response team were joined by Belgian emergency responders to conduct an installation protection exercise at Zutendaal Army Depot March 30.
The partnership aimed to gauge response time and coordination efforts between the emergency departments while the groups role-played the discovery of a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device — or VBIED — at the depot, parked near a 100,000-liter tank of heating oil.
“This would be considered a terrorist event,” said John Hopper, emergency manager for the garrison. “If something happens, host nation responds … [These exercises] validate our plans and ensure cooperation between host nation and us.”
The exercise scenario began the previous week when military intelligence was tipped off on the fictional suspicious activities of a U.S. service member who expressed his disgruntlement toward the U.S. Army at a local Belgian pizza restaurant and his intention to “fix” the problem.
Additional spot reports came in over the following days, and the Soldier was taken into custody for questioning where he admitted to doing something to his vehicle. After this statement, the Soldier promptly requested a lawyer. Finally on Wednesday morning, a spot report revealed a suspicious abandoned vehicle parked at the Zutendaal Army Depot.
“This [exercise] looks a bit different because we cannot stop the daily mission,” said Sgt. Cheyenne Bradrick, a military police Soldier from USAG Benelux–Brussels.
Bradrick explained how past exercises impacted operations of the entire base and pulled in maximum participation to the drills. Due to current world events, mission operations had to continue despite the exercise, so participation from U.S. personnel was limited.
Initial response to the VBIED came from the military police at the Zutendaal base, who carried out building evacuations and cordoned off the vehicle.
“Our goal is to neutralize the threat as much as possible and keep everyone as safe as possible,” said Bradrick.
As the Belgian Politie from Genk appeared on the scene, they partnered with the Belgian explosive ordinance detachment, the Genk fire department, a Belgian drone team and the federal forensics from Hasselt to dismantle the threat.
“Once they get on the scene, Politie takes command,” said Staff Sgt. Philip Morshead, a military police Soldier from USAG Benelux–Brunssum.
After the drone team deployed their flying device to view the contents of the vehicle, the EOD team began their efforts to dismantle the VBIED with a robotic high-velocity water blast. The launched water bullet blew out the back and driver-side windows. The bomb squad employed their skills while wearing personal protective equipment and forensics personnel gathered the evidence once the bomb was dismantled.
“It’s good experience and a change of pace from regular daily activity,” said Sgt. Samuel Billings, a military police Soldier from USAG Benelux–Brunssum. “It keeps us from getting complacent.”
“[The exercise] showed how prior coordination with the host nation emergency services allowed us all to work together and respond accordingly to the incident,” said Hopper. “Exercises are meant to test plans … This exercise did that for us.”