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North Carolina ANG exercises Vigilant Guard 2015 in a new way

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Patricia F. Moran and Staff Sgt. Julianne M. Showalter
  • 145th Public Affairs
Hurricane Zephyr devastates North and South Carolina and its citizens! This is the scenario for Vigilant Guard Exercise 2015, bringing members of the North Carolina Air and Army National Guard, state Division of Emergency Management and North Carolina Forest Service together at the 145th Civil Engineer Squadron Regional Training Site in New London, N.C., March 6-8, 2015.

Once a disaster happens manpower is going to be a critical need. When civilian authorities respond to a natural disaster the military may be called in to assist with that response. With this exercise, 145th Civil Engineer Squadron was first on scene. In a real-world emergency, 145th CES will prepare a bed-down area in order to receive and support first responders.  Tents are erected, power and water purification equipment are strategically placed and washed out roads are repaired by CE task force using heavy construction equipment.

"This is a great opportunity to train our young airmen and prepare them for a real-world mission." said Lt. Col. Timothy Moran, officer in charge, 145th Civil Engineer Squadron, Regional Training Site. "During this exercise we also work and train with our army counterparts so we can understand each other's capabilities and work stronger and more effectively together."

The objective of this exercise also includes establishing a unified incident command system to manage a Joint Receiving, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration (JRSOI) site at the 145th CES/RTS.

"It's a three state exercise. For the North Carolina piece, we're providing support to the citizens of North Carolina by processing civilian and military personnel and resources centrally to provide relief," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Gregory Goforth, 145th Mission Support Group deputy commander and National Guard incident commander for the exercise.

Sitting side by side with a Forest Service or state Division Emergency Management counterpart, members of the North Carolina Air National Guard are exercising the effectiveness of the incident command system in a hurricane scenario.

"We're learning how to work together in this joint exercise environment. I'm learning how we'd do this if something real hit," said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jeffery Harwood, 145th Airlift Wing Comptroller Flight. 

"We're sitting at the same table and totally integrated. It's never happened before," said John Howard, North Carolina Forest Service incident commander.

The N.C. Forest Service has utilized the incident command system since the early 90s to manage the large scale forest fires. The incident command system has now been recognized nation-wide as the primary means of organization for support and relief in any disaster, whether it's a hurricane, earthquake or other type of response.

Over the course of the exercise the participants practiced receiving and deploying force packages with an in-processing goal of 45 minutes from arrival at the JRSOI site. A force package could be personnel, supplies, off road vehicles, ambulances, fire trucks, fuel trucks, bull dozers and/or other assets used to provide relief. 

Responders are checked in and briefed on the scenario, which gives each person a clear picture of what's happening and where they'll be utilized.

"If you send folks too much, too little, or too late you've made the problem worse on the people that need help. Organizing it up front at this level allows us to mobilize forces from a central location then pushing them out in time to help. It provides a better service to the people impacted by the storm," said Howard.

Three counties provided personnel and vehicle assets to add realism to the exercise to include Buncombe County, Mecklenburg County and Stanly County.

In total, 217 personnel and 45 vehicles were processed through for accountability and deployment to aid relief efforts in this category 4 hurricane scenario.

The scenario is based on destruction caused by the 1989 storm Hurricane Hugo.  The full force of the storm struck with winds of 135 to 139 mph, and it made an imprint area of an estimated 600 miles.

"In 1989 I was a responder to Hurricane Hugo, and I was responsible for taking a task force of bulldozers down to help clear roads. We didn't have the incident command system we use today so we went down to help without a lot of guidance and safety information. We can now provide that information to the crews," said Howard.

"The biggest take away for the National Guard is learning the incident command system from N.C. Emergency Management and Forest Service. They're teaching us and vice versa. It's a true partnership," said Goforth.

"This exercise, the big picture, allows us to work together in order to react better together. Now we can respond as an entire community with a communally understood concept," said Master Sgt. Rebecca Tongen from the 145th Civil Engineer Flight and filling the role of Plans Chief in the exercise. 

Vigilant Guard 2015 was a great success as it allowed all agencies to hone their skills in a central location. Military and emergency responders can now bring help to the communities in North Carolina or wherever responders are needed.