FORT HUACHCUA, Ariz. (Aug. 5, 2012) -- What would happen if a catastrophic event was to take place somewhere in the United States? Emergency services, armed forces and other entities would be dispatched to help, but what if the disaster destroyed phone towers, internet capabilities and other relief efforts that required signal support? How would the responders be able to carry out their humanitarian efforts if they were not able to communicate with each other to be able to help out those in need?
The 40th Expeditionary Signal Battalion is participating in Vibrant Response 13, a joint-service, mass-training exercise directed by U.S. Northern Command. It began last Friday at Camp Atterbury, Ind., and two other nearby locations. It is scheduled to end, Friday.
"People don't realize how much they take the way we communicate these days for granted," said 1st Lt. Jonathon McKinney, Company A, 40th ESB, commander of the signal Soldiers attached to Site Night Hawk on Camp Atterbury, Ind., during the exercise.
"If something [major was] to happen, people would have to do everything face-to-face until communication efforts could be restored," said McKinney. "It would be just like they had to do it in the [old-time] Army."
Approximately 7,000 Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and civilian personnel from various support agencies converged on Camp Atterbury to participate in Vibrant Response 13. It is designed to test participants' reactions to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosives, or CBRNE, incident as part of the real-life catastrophic incident response unit. These service members and civilians will be the personnel who will actually spring into action if such an event was to occur.
The 40th ESB's participation in this training exercise is crucial because, beginning Oct. 1, they will be joining the Defense CBRNE Response Force for the next year. The 40th ESB will be tasked to provide communication support to the other response teams in the event a catastrophic event occurs.
Knowing the possible mission that lies ahead makes getting the most out of this training exercise even more of a priority.
"The mission has been great," said Sgt. Koran Jones, a team chief and multichannel transmission systems operator-maintainer, Company A, 40th ESB. "It gives Soldiers that haven't been deployed experience so that if something were to actually happen they would be prepared."
Being prepared for many different scenarios and situations that may occur weighs heavily on not only the Soldiers involved, but also on the leadership in charge of their welfare.
"One thing I've learned from deploying is that nothing stays the same, said Capt. Saphira Ocasio, company commander, Company A, 40th ESB. "Be prepared when it comes to an exercise. Learn to think outside the box."
In an exercise of this magnitude, it is often not enough to just have a plan B. It is important for Soldiers to get the most out of this training and to ensure that preparation for the possible mission ahead is as good as it can be.
Because of this, Ocasio encourages her team leaders to use the military planning method, 'Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency,' or PACE.
PACE revolves around the idea of most people having a backup plan, but hardly any of those same people are prepared in the event the secondary plan fails. With time come changes, so the original game plan may change, causing not only the primary plan to become obsolete, but also the backup plan. Having a primary, secondary, and two more options on which to fall back increases the ability to adapt to changes, and in return, bring success to an organization.
Introducing Soldiers to PACE is important, said Ocasio. It may not be today, but there will be an exercise when they will throw everything at the Soldiers so it is important to come up with different PACE scenarios, she explained.
Being able to come out and be a part of such a big training exercise has been beneficial for these signal Soldiers. Sgt. Jason Carroll, Company A, 40th ESB, a team chief at site Night Hawk took a break from training one of his Soldiers on the Joint Network Node, a joint compatible communications system, to share his thoughts on the training.
"This is the first time we've been able to come out and be attached to another unit," said Carroll. "The training is good and so is the morale of the Soldiers."
During the exercise, the Soldiers set up various types of communication equipment for other units. They installed phone lines for the tents in each forward operating base and erected satellite equipment. The Soldiers also performed troubleshooting inspections to ensure people had satellite feeds for their sensitive and secret Internet protocol router networks. They also did whatever else the site needed communication-wise to successfully perform their mission.
Being part of an event of this magnitude proves to be more beneficial for some, if not all, of the 40th ESB Soldiers.
"This training is more comparable to an actual deployment rather than a confined field exercise," said Sgt. Timothy Cullen, Company B., 40th ESB.
One day, a catastrophic event could take place on U.S. soil. If and when the day comes, the now-trained support forces will be waiting for the call. Providing communication support during this time period will be of the utmost importance, Cullen explained.
Because of this, these specially trained signal Soldiers of the 40th ESB know the benefits of large-scale training events. That is why their leaders will continue to emphasize further hands-on Soldier training to the team leaders.
"There is more training to do," said Ocasio. "Don't stop [at the level at which] you guys are at. Teach the Soldiers not to grow complacent."