FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas - For the first time, American and Mexican militaries simultaneously conducted a coordinated disaster response exercise from May 2-9 in south Texas and in the Mexican states of Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosi.

U.S. Army North, the Joint Force Land Component Command of U.S. Northern Command, led the U.S. military disaster response from its main command post at Fort Sam Houston and deployed Task Force 51, its mobile all-hazards task force, to Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas, to respond to a simulated category 4 hurricane strike near Brownsville, Texas.

Meanwhile, Mexico's National Defense Secretariat (SEDENA), IV Military Region, operated an exercise cell in Monterrey, Mex., with its 8th Military Zone operating in Reynosa, Mex., to respond to the hurricane on the other side of the border in Matamoros, Mexico, applying their disaster relief plan for the civilian population, DN-III-E.

Army North exchanged liaisons with the Mexican military to exercise operational-level and tactical-level communication and information-sharing to respond to a simulated category four hurricane, as part of Northern Command's Ardent Sentry 2012, an exercise directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and executed by Army North.

During the exercise, Army North also had three liaison officers to SEDENA, IV Military Region, in Monterrey, Mexico as well as three with SEDENA 8th Military Zone in Reynosa, Mexico.

"Natural disasters don't recognize borders; therefore, our inter-operability is essential to minimize the suffering of our peoples," said Col. Richard Francey, chief of staff, Army North.
Army North personnel and their Mexican counterparts initiated plans and orders for medical evacuation missions, search and rescue, getting relief supplies to survivors, setting up shelters, establishing communications, clearing routes and many other emergency support functions. This exercise is the first coordinated effort with operational and tactical information sharing at multiple echelons and with scenarios designed to encourage cooperative efforts.

"This exercise represents another significant step forward with our Mexican Army partners," said Francey. "I have been very impressed with their professionalism."

More than 600 personnel from Army North; Task Force 51, Army North; Joint Task Force -- Civil Support, based out of Fort Monroe, Va.; and Army North's Region VI and Region X defense coordinating elements participated in the exercise.

The simulated hurricane, along with tornados, a plane crash, a nuclear weapons accident, and a security event, are all part of Northern Command's Ardent Sentry 2012, an exercise directed by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and executed by Army North.

"The exercise is primarily a command post exercise, but there will be field training events within the exercise," said Col. Mathew Brady, chief, current operations, Army North. "Those events take place in North Dakota, Oregon, Texas, Alaska, Connecticut and Nova Scotia, and it involves U.S., Mexican and Canadian military units. At Army North, we are focusing our efforts towards the venues in Oregon and a hurricane that 'strikes' near the Texas/Mexican border."

The exercise scenarios run through a gamut of unique roles, such as Defense Support of Civil Authorities planning and operations; Arctic command and control relationships, roles and responsibilities; support to a maritime environmental event; information exchange sharing with the Mexican military; Canadian and U.S. Civil Air Patrol operations; nuclear weapon accident/incident response operations; search and rescue operations; and exercise of the dual-status command concept.

"Some of our challenges center around not having designated or assigned forces," said Brady. "This forces Army North to request the forces we need from the services. Ardent Sentry 12 will validate existing plans, policies and procedures, including the Federal Inter-agency Response Plan as well as state and regional plans."

In U.S. Army North's 24-hour main command post, representatives from every staff section helped to track, manage, plan, coordinate and execute a wide range of operations around the continental U.S.

Sgt. 1st Class Darin Ingle, Common Operational Picture manager, Army North, explained the maps and graphics on the three monitors attached to his computer.

"I collect information from subordinate units and higher headquarters and package it for everyone to see one clear picture of operations and to maintain situational awareness," Ingle said.

Ingle's satellite imagery maps track the status and locations of personnel, equipment, facilities and ongoing operations as well as storm tracks and other vital information. His graphics included storm surge projections and other critical information.

It is important to conduct exercises like Ardent Sentry, said Michael Provost, a contractor that serves as a criminal intelligence analyst at Army North's Provost Marshal Office.

"Every exercise is different," said Provost. "It's a learning experience. We look to the last exercise to see where improvements can be made, and we look to the future."

High-pressure exercises like Ardent Sentry serve as a crucible, he continued.

"You have to know how your staff is going to react in a crisis," he said, "and you have to be able to count on the coordination it will take in a real-world disaster.

"It's better to make mistakes here than in a real-life hurricane."