By Sgt. 1st Class Manuel Torres, U.S. Army North PAOJuly 30, 2010
BUTLERVILLE, Ind. - In the chaotic mix of realistic training, a team of individuals donning orange vests can be seen flitting throughout the area as they jot down notes and observations; their mission is to prepare detailed observations on the steps taken while units perform life-saving measures during a mass casualty and decontamination training exercise.
After the mission is complete, it is then up to the observer controllers to compile those notes and to provide the valued feedback to the units and commands conducting operations during the Vibrant Response 10.2 field training exercise July 11-21, at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, which is located near Butlerville, Ind.
Such is the mission for the OCs from U.S. Army North's Joint Task Force - 51, which is headquartered in San Antonio and serves as the command and control element for the national emergency response FTX.
"Observing units allows us to ensure they are meeting the standards," said James Barkley, observer controller, ARNORTH. "They use the skills they have been taught to complete the mission, and we are here to validate that the training is to standard."
While watching the South Carolina Army National Guard's 413th Chemical Company perform decontamination of a large group of casualties, observer controllers see the process from beginning to end. They observe how units set up the site and deploy its Soldiers to perform their mission - it is all part of the validation process.
"In a mass casualty mission like this, you have to maintain the safety of the people who need help as well as the safety of the units performing the mission," said Barkley. "We ensure the times where units must conduct their rotation with other team members to avoid dehydration and heat casualties."
Temperatures in MUTC have been in the upper 90s throughout the week of training. With showers and thunderstorms throughout the afternoons, it makes the area more humid and potentially dangerous for Soldiers performing in their Mission Oriented Protective Posture gear, which can result in heat casualties in a matter of minutes. While being encased in air-tight suits from head to toe, as well as wearing their protective gas masks, the Soldiers stand in the sun - protecting themselves from the notional nuclear contamination area - for up to an hour at a time.
"This is real training; this is as real as possible; every hour, Soldiers must rotate, get water, perform life-saving measures on civilians who were effected in the blast," said Barkley.
Included in the scenarios and evaluation processes is that units must know how to properly evaluate casualties, how to control the flow of the wounded casualties they are providing aid to, and how to provide oversight and control of the decontamination and records process.
"The 413th chemical company is doing really well today," said Joseph Ussery, observer controller, U.S. Army North, a contractor for the Advanced Technology Education Program. "We ensure they have the live role-playing casualties, the mannequins, the time and place of the training, and we give them the realism that they experience during the training."
During the exercise, Soldiers must assess and process the injuries of mannequins, which are labeled with specific injuries, in addition to the live role players, who suffer from the symptoms of dehydration, starvation, burns, radioactive contamination and hysteria. The Soldiers are evaluated on their ability to process the live role players, and the mannequins, through the decontamination sites.
After processing through decon, all notional casualties must then be cleaned, washed and processed through the medical aid stations, where they will be provided medical attention and treated for their injuries.
The added realism of training aids and live role-playing casualties provide Soldiers with an added measure of realism.
"I'm learning a lot here; this is very different than our mission overseas," said Sgt. Westly Linder, infantryman, 4th Battalion, 118th Infantry Regiment, South Carolina Army National Guard. "The controllers are here, and they help us communicate to use our skills to help the civilians get to where they need to go for help. Every drill, we practice our mission; this helps me and my team to accomplish our mission."