CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind., Aug. 22, 2011 -- With less than a month until the opening of the 9-11 Memorial in New York, and the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., the Army unit responsible for responding to large-scale domestic terrorism and natural disasters is conducting exercises in Indiana involving 7,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and DOD civilians responding to a simulated 10-kiloton nuclear detonation in Cincinnati.
The Vibrant Response 12 exercise, conducted by U.S. Army North, focuses on the Department of Defense mission to support civil authorities after a disaster.
"No American can ever forget, or will ever forget, the loss of nearly 3,000 lives on Sept.11, 2001," said Lt. Gen. Guy Swan III, commanding general, Army North and Fort Sam Houston. "With those terrible events in mind over the last 10 years, there continues to be a new focus from federal, state and local organizations to work together so we're better prepared. Exercises like Vibrant Response ensure U. S. Army North remains able to quickly respond to the unimaginable, and ensure that whatever the size and scope of the disaster, we'll be there -- where and when it's needed."
Vibrant Response 12 is a U.S. Northern Command field training exercise for the specialized response forces dedicated to respond to any chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident.
"This is the fourth year we've held these Vibrant Response exercises, and because of the exercises, we've been able to improve the DOD's ability to work with partners like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and we've improved the capabilities and speed of DOD response forces," said Lt. Col. Thomas Bright, chief, Exercise Branch, U.S. Army North.
The exercise is in phases, like an actual response. In the first days of the disaster, local, county and state emergency responders provide immediate lifesaving and life-sustaining services, while federal forces from around the nation mobilize and deploy to provide large-scale and specialized emergency support functions.
For Vibrant Response 12, in the initial days following the simulated blast, local police and firefighters and National Guardsmen performed lifesaving missions like medical evacuations and decontamination. Army North sent in two different response forces to continue to save more lives and provide support to the people affected by the disaster. These response forces were controlled by two separate joint task force headquarters tasked to synchronize the missions of a very complex response effort.
"Every disaster is different, and the government has scalable response forces and plans in place to get immediate lifesaving and life-sustaining care to victims of natural or man-made disasters," said Col. John Moore, Region VII defense coordinating officer, U.S. Army North.
During the exercise, command and control elements at Camp Atterbury coordinated with unit commanders on the ground at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Jennings County Fairgrounds, Jefferson Proving Grounds, Forward Operating Base Panther, and other venues, and coordinated with local, state and federal agencies.
"(The way we respond to catastrophes today) is in large part a direct result from the lessons learned -- things we could have and should have done in our response to Hurricane Katrina," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Jonathan Treacy, commander of Joint Task Force - Civil Support, Fort Eustis, Va.
"One of the ways we do things here during Vibrant Response is to take a complex system that has multi-overlapping authorities in place and make us one very responsive group of organizations -- federal, state, and the other agencies that are not DOD," Treacy said.
Military responders support many of the functions of the National Response Framework. Their missions cover a myriad of tasks, such as setting up communications, clearing routes, building shelter for displaced civilians, getting food, water, medical supplies and other necessities and equipment. Their missions also include providing medical care and evacuation, mortuary affairs, providing aerial imagery, testing for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear elements, decontamination, assisting law enforcement with evidence collection and many others.
"The entire exercise, start to finish, is very challenging," said Col. David Theisen, Task Force Ops commander, Defense Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Response Force, or DCRF. "It's very realistic training that provides our service members experience in homeland support missions that most service members don't have an opportunity to be exposed to. Rehearsing missions now assures the DOD, our partner agencies and the public that we're prepared for this vital mission. At the end of the day, it's Americans helping Americans."
The missions are different from what servicemembers are used to.
"The difference is definitely helping people on our own soil," said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Savastano, platoon sergeant, 546th Military Police Company, 385th MP Battalion, 16th MP Brigade. "Normally, we're overseas fighting a war. We've had to change our whole mindset."
Many servicemembers said they were grateful for the opportunity to serve their countrymen.
"It's what I signed up for," said Spc. Kyle Stewart, 546th MP Co. "I enjoy helping the nation, helping civilians."
Stewart and his comrades from the Fort Stewart, Ga.-based military police company were transported by CH-47 Chinook to Jefferson Proving Ground Aug. 21 to provide lifesaving medical care to "distressed civilians" and bring them water and Meals-Ready-to-Eat.
Many units from throughout the U.S. participated in the exercise, including:
-- 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Fort Polk, La.
-- 11th Aviation Command, Fort Knox, Ky.
-- 62nd Medical Brigade, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
-- 415th Chemical Brigade, Greenville, S.C.
-- 5th Medical Brigade, Fort Hamilton, N.Y.
-- 244th Aviation Brigade, Fort Dix, N.J.
-- 167th Theater Sustainment Command, Fort McClellan, Ala.
-- Elements of the U.S. Marine Chemical, Biological Incident Response Force, Indian Head, Md.
-- Other National Guard units from Indiana, California, West Virginia, Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota.
The 5,200-person DCRF, commanded and controlled by Joint Task Force - Civil Support, began operations on Aug. 18, and the 1,200-person Command and Control Response Element - Alpha, under Army North's Joint Task Force - 51, joined the response Aug. 22.
Army North was reorganized in 2005 to function as the Army Service Component Command to U.S. Northern Command, the combatant command responsible for North America. U.S. Northern Command stood up Oct. 1, 2002, in the wake of 9/11.