FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – Pennsylvania National Guard members of the state’s Homeland Response Force conducted a training exercise Nov. 17-20.
Almost 400 Soldiers and Airmen from Army and Air National Guard units from across the state participated in the exercise, which included mission command and field elements at Fort Indiantown Gap’s “rock pile.”
The scenario for the exercise was a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear event in a large city, said Lt. Col. Robert Cuthie, executive officer of the HRF and officer in charge of the exercise.
“These exercises enable us to practice conducting mission command so that everybody in the room understands when we get called up to deploy, we understand exactly how to communicate and work together, but also how to work with civilian agencies,” Cuthie said.
“We have a new system that we’re getting the service members used to, to conduct mission command,” he said. “So, the Soldiers are training on that software and learning how to incorporate it into our command post so they can use it to share information and ensure everyone has a common operating picture.”
The HRF, with a full-time staff of about 30 service members, typically conducts exercises twice a year. But most of its members only train together during these two exercises, Cuthie said.
“Most of these people come together for this event and get to know each other and they practice their procedures. We build our [standard operating procedures] and we prepare all of our equipment for if we were to be called up,” said Cuthie, commander of 2nd Squadron, 104th Cavalry Regiment, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. “We’re always teaching new people what their job is, how they can integrate and be part of the team.”
At the rock pile – a heap of concrete slabs, damaged vehicles and other debris meant to simulate the aftermath of a bombing or CBRN event – service members from the 3rd CBRN Task Force practiced tasks they would employ at a collapsed structure. That included drilling and cutting through concrete, moving large debris using crowbars and pipes, and shoring up unstable objects.
“We have a fairly new team,” said Staff Sgt. Jacob Van Keuren, search and extraction training noncommissioned officer with the 3rd CBRN Task Force. “We’re getting them acclimated to working in their (protective) suits because there’s very limited dexterity.”
Van Keuren said exercises like this are very beneficial, especially with so many new task force members.
“It’s great to have them going through the motions, getting hands-on experience, especially in their suits, because these are very perishable skills,” Van Keuren said. “It’s just like any other military task: You need to do the task to get proficient at it.”