CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. - The exercise is the nightmare scenario: a 10-kiloton nuclear weapon has detonated in Indianapolis. The state of Indiana has requested federal help in the nation's most devastating disaster.
The service members and civilians of U.S. Army North's Joint Task Force - 51, based at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, deploy to Camp Atterbury to set up a 24-hour tactical operations center to support the state of Indiana, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other partner agencies.
For two weeks, July 10-24, task force members, joint enablers and augmentees conduct response and recovery operations in Vibrant Response 10.2, a field training exercise for domestic terrorism response.
Although a majority of the observed activities appear to occur during the daylight hours, the team provides an active night shift that works just as fervently to support the frenzy of activities that occurs throughout the day.
"This event allows us to bring together units from across the United States to train on our response to a nuclear event," said Lt. Col. Michael Brough, operations officer, JTF-51. "We pray this kind of event never occurs, but if it does, we're ready."
In the beginning, disaster responders scrambled to get systems online, people in place and critical lifesaving operations in progress. But over the course of the exercise, a beneficial rhythm developed between the day shift and the night shift.
The day shift is filled with a sort of frantic energy, phones ringing constantly and people regularly shouting "Attention in the TOC!" to report the latest progress of lifesaving and life-sustaining missions, but at night, when there are fewer operations, the tactical operations center here is quiet, except for voices in low murmur and the incessant tap-tap-tapping of keys on laptops.
The work being done at night assigns helicopters and field litter ambulances to lifesaving missions; it assigns convoys to transport food and water; decontamination teams to centers that will evaluate, decontaminate and move victims to treatment facilities; and analyzes data and plans for the requisition of forces that will enable future response and recovery operations.
The staff of more than 70 U.S. Army North personnel and augmentees who serve on the night shift analyze mission assignments and write fragmentary orders that set in motion the support operations by more than 2,700 service members and Department of Defense civilians from units around the country gathered in Indiana.
"On the day shift, there's more coordination going on; at night, there's more product production and policing up of TOC operations in preparation for day shift," said Maj. Jaime Calica, night shift battle captain, JTF-51. "The work we do enables the day shift to conduct operations in support of civil authorities."
For Capt. David Heninger, night shift logistics officer, JTF-51, his job overnight is about analysis and future planning.
"We analyze logistics assets that have been pushed through the proper channels and try to anticipate needs before they arise, and if there's a need, to ensure it's taken care of with logistics," Heninger said. "We also give the commander an operational picture of the logistics assets available."
The Monument, Colo., native said the exercise was instructive.
"From my level within the TOC, this has been a great exercise for every section to run through real operations with field units, and it has increased our effectiveness as a contingency command post to help the American people when called upon," Henninger said.
The work done by the night shift contributed significantly to the overall success of the exercise, said U.S. Navy Commander Charles Smith, joint planner, JTF-51.
"The plans and analysis they conducted allowed us to conduct timely and coordinated operations," said Smith, a Wilmington, N.C., native. "In a disaster of this magnitude, or any natural disaster, emergency support functions mean life and death - and we have to be prepared."
Day or night though, the service members and civilians of Joint Task Force - 51 said they were proud of their role in civil support and disaster preparedness, and were prepared to serve as long as necessary, whatever the disaster.
"There's no such thing as an exit strategy in the joint task force," said Maj. Gen. John Basilica Jr., commanding general, JTF-51. "We continue to provide support until civilian agencies can do it for themselves."