KABUL, Afghanistan (Army News Service, Nov. 26, 2012) -- Dozens of Afghan National Army soldiers stealthily entered the security gates of the coalition ammunition point after a simulated report of an insurgent attack on Camp Phoenix during a training exercise here, Nov. 3.

The Afghan military and police personnel responsible for security around the capital city conducted the training exercise, aimed at testing their inter-agency communication and coordination drills and techniques.

While coalition senior leaders set up a command and control center nearby, Soldiers with the Georgia Army National Guard and Task Force Centurion's quick reaction force, or QRF, sprang into action in their roles as the casualty evacuation team and medical support.

"Coalition forces from Turkey, the United States, Afghanistan and other nations responded to the simulated crises," said Col. Mark Burkett, deputy commander of the 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, or MEB, on Camp Phoenix.

During an emergency, it is important to have a strong communication plan that draws critical information from various sources and forwards it to decision-makers quickly and accurately.

In Afghanistan, as in many other places, critical information often comes from the first-responders. First-responders must understand which facts are relevant and necessary for them and the next level of decision-makers to have. Skills like these are a major part of the training and mentoring program the coalition has implemented and that Afghans have incorporated into their organizational systems.

'The real deal'

Just one day before the training exercise, the Afghan National Army, or ANA, and the QRF had the opportunity to test their communication systems between the two outfits when they responded together to a real-world incident involving an unexploded ordnance, known as UXO, in the yard of a Kabul-area school.

"We just completed a rehearsal for the QRF exercise when we got an emergency mission to respond to a UXO that landed in a school-yard," said 1st Lt. Doniel Wade, a platoon leader with 179th Military Police Company with Camp Phoenix QRF. "There was no confusion in my mind. I knew this was the real deal."

Along with the Camp Phoenix QRF, members of the U.S. and Afghan explosive ordnance disposal, or EOD, detachments, Afghan National Army, and local police responded after a school official reported the UXO to police, Wade said.

"When we arrived, the ANA had already cordoned off the area and were keeping on-lookers away at a safe distance," said Wade. "Our role was to escort and provide security for the EOD as they worked."

Wade's military training couldn't prepare him for what he had to do to remove the device and make the area safe again. The ground around the UXO was hard, rocky and packed with dense clay. The UXO was lodged several feet under the surface. The EOD group decided careful digging would be the best way to remove the device and the Soldiers prepared themselves for several hours of digging with hand shovels.

"It was a rough dig," said Spc. Christopher Stover, a medic with the 179th Military Police Company. "Everybody was digging -- ANA, police, and Soldiers."

No one expected the device would explode, Wade said, so they all felt comfortable working near the bomb. The EOD group also asked the ANA to bring in an excavation tracker to help remove large portions of earth next to the impact area.

"All the training the ANA has received has really paid off," Wade said. "We would have had to dig for a couple of days if not for an ANA soldier who arrived with the excavator. The coincidental thing about it all was that he had just received his certification on the tracker the day prior."

Wade's confidence in the ability of the ANA increased after the training exercise and real-world incident. Each situation demonstrates the roles that inter-agency communication, relationships between local people and the police, and timely information from first responders all play in response to emergencies.

"It takes a lot to get several different nations together under the same control," Wade said. "I'm glad we, along with the ANA, had all the training we have had up to this point."