This was the scenario presented to JTF-71 when they reported for a joint training exercise at the Govalle Water Treatment Facility on April 26th and 27th, 2012. Military responders hit the ground and began to don their hazardous materials suits and quarantine the area. As Soldiers and Airmen conducted the collective training exercise in Austin, Texas, they strengthened their readiness for Homeland Response Force (HRF) mission. The exercise was a portion of the brigade's annual training (AT) that consisted of two parts, basic soldiering skills and training for the HRF mission within the State of Texas and all of FEMA Region 6.
"My goal is to provide excellent training for the members of JTF-71 so that we can practice our (decontamination) and search and extraction elements," said Craig Parkhill, the Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) Coordinator for the Minuteman Brigade and the Incident Commander for the exercise.
This training also allowed junior service members an opportunity to step into higher leadership positions and gain invaluable experience in homeland crisis management.
"What we want to do for this AT period is empower our junior leaders," said Col. Lee Schnell, commander of Joint Task Force 71. "I have young soldiers, young specialists, and young sergeants who, in some cases, have two deployments under their belts so they're in no way inexperienced and so we're pushing them to the front, letting them lead, letting them learn and it's been great."
Junior leaders from all response units displayed their capabilities during the exercise.
"It gave me a little bit extra before I step up to the next rank so it pretty much put me in a position where I can already be ahead instead of catching up," said Spc. Kevin McColfough of the 436th Chemical Company, who was given the opportunity to be the maintenance platoon sergeant during the exercise. "It's been a good experience."
Service members also took control of their individual tasks. Working with no direct supervision, Airman 1st Class Kristen Gardner maintained the operational safety of the response units by ensuring that all appropriate hearing protection measures were being taken.
"I just do what I know needs to be done and just keep going," she said. Her mission also included advising Army and Air Guard forces of minimum safe distances for high noise equipment.
Having Soldiers and Airmen that are willing, able and ready to fill the shoes of senior leadership strengthens the organization at its lowest level.
"They're absolutely critical," said Schnell. "Those junior leaders are really where the rubber meets the road. They're the ones that are going to coach, mentor, and lead the soldiers that get the job done."