By Sgt. Daniel Colvin and Maj. Corey SchultzJanuary 8, 2012
BELTON, Mo. -- Alpha and Bravo Company of the 418th Civil Affairs (CA) Battalion's mission is to deploy overseas in response to a large-scale natural disaster, coordinating military capabilities with civilian governments and private companies' manpower and resources. So how do they train for that mission in suburban Kansas City?
The answer: by practicing response to a disaster that actually could occur in southeastern Missouri. In the hypothetical training exercise conducted January 7-8 2012, a devastating earthquake ripped through the New Madrid fault, causing 75,000 residents to lose their homes.
An estimated 22,000 of these people are children in the educational range of K-12. These 75,000 Displaced Civilians (DCs) must be temporarily resettled in Pleasant Hill, Mo., just east of Kansas City and almost 400 miles northwest of the earthquake epicenter at New Madrid. The Army Reserve Civil Affairs Soldiers set up a task force to assist the local and state governments to plan and coordinate temporary shelter, food and sanitary conditions for these unfortunate citizens.
"Planning the resettlement of DCs is what we would be doing overseas," said the battalion's acting first sergeant, Staff Sgt. Doug Rueff, who played the Task Force Operations Officer. "As Civil Affairs, our job is to coordinate between the military and a variety of civilians."
There's no better way to plan for working with civilian authorities overseas than to practice with the civilian authorities here. The Soldiers set up a Civil Military Operations Center (CMOC), which would manage five Civil Affairs Teams (CATs). Each team assessed a different aspect of Pleasant Hill's infrastructure: hospitals, schools, landfills, sewage facilities, and potential locations to house the civilians displaced by the earthquake. The CMOC is the nerve center for the teams and also a connective tissue between the battalion and any civilian organizations or government operating in the area.
Education team members Spec. Amy Pittman and Pvt. Bret Beardstat met with Dr. John L. Griffith, assistant superintendent of the Pleasant Hill R-III School District. Meeting with Griffith allowed Pittman and Beardstat to utilize his knowledge and experience not only in education, but also the operational aspects of administration. Dr. Griffith discussed his school district's ability to provide for some of the new students and made suggestions for using the surrounding school districts and other local resources for additional classroom space.
Other teams in the area conducted meetings with local authorities to determine support for the large influx of people. For instance, the team led by Sgt. Kirby Karnes visited the Pleasant Hill sewage treatment plant to determine how 75,000 temporary residents would affect the local sewage system --and what the Army could do to alleviate the strain on the infrastructure.
After coordinating with the Pleasant Hill authorities, the five teams of Soldiers met with other military units such as the 603rd MP Company, the 325th Combat Support Hospital (CSH) and the 308th Military Information Support Operations (MISO) Company. While Civil Affairs Soldiers have robust assessment capability, it is these other units that bring security, medical and information broadcasting capabilities to the disaster scenario.
Using the information collected by the CA teams, civilian and military authorities can coordinate locally available resources, ensuring that the needs of the dislocated civilians, as well as those of the local residents, can be met effectively.
The five teams of Soldiers were all junior personnel, E5 and below. Not only did they carry out the missions, they practiced mission planning, and as the final event in the exercise briefed Col. Calvin DeWitt, himself a Civil Affairs Soldier and the reserve emergency preparedness liaison officer for Region 7. His match of CA background and knowledge of civilian emergency management made him the ideal person to review the plan for displaced civilians.
DeWitt stressed that this type of training is extremely realistic and a sound preparation for what the Soldiers will face in theater.
"The Army Reserve has the non-lethal capabilities such as civil affairs, engineering, and military police that are vital to responding to disasters both here and overseas," DeWitt said.
Civil Affairs soldiers conduct a wide range of missions, including foreign humanitarian assistance. Charlie and Delta Company of the 418th Civil Affairs Battalion recently returned from a year-long mission in the Horn of Africa, coordinating medical and veterinary missions, the arranging the distribution of basic needs items, and distributing bed nets to help prevent malaria. Soldiers also coordinated to build medical clinics, libraries and schools, and enabled the people to provide basic services, medical, and educational needs for themselves.