By Tech. Sgt. Nathan T. Clark, 145th Airlift Wing
/ Published June 15, 2017
06/10/2017 – SYLVA, N.C. -- During a disaster, the natural human response is to move away from danger, but there exists the rare individual, the first, second, and third responders who instead charge into the fire. But not all responders operate the same, which is how operation Vigilant Catamount, an interagency domestic exercise between local, state, and military personnel in North Carolina, was born.
From June 5 through 14, emergency responders from around North Carolina reacted to mock scenarios including a terrorist bomb threat at Fontana Dam in Western North Carolina, rioting at Western Carolina University, and a simulated F-15 crash near Guion Farm in the Dupont State Forrest. According to the director of logistics for the North Carolina National Guard Lt. Col. Lee Thompson, this type of integration is crucial to the community and crucial to the state.
“We as citizen airmen and citizen soldiers are able to provide a benefit whether that’s manpower, apparatus, equipment to local municipal agencies, sheriff’s department, fire departments, or emergency management planners that really need an injection of initial support within the first few days of a natural disaster,” said Thompson. “As a Federal force or a state activated force working for the governor we can come in for that short two to three-day span help to correct some areas, inject what we have to offer, and then walk away and turn it back over to the local municipalities and the local emergency managers.”
The concept of cooperation is one that Senior Master Sgt. Erick Greene, the 145th Security Forces Superintendent, knows well. He referred to the merging of all resources as essential.
“In time of crisis we’re gonna need to know who we can call and where we are going to get everything we need to get, so this is a test, not only of our resources but of our people, to see how well they can work together and complete the mission” Greene said.
The 145th Airlift Wing Security Forces alongside Army Military Police were given the task of providing security around the simulated crashed aircraft, and later the subduing of a local riot.
“We are learning the utilization of resources and the merging of forces of state, civilian, and military, and were also helping to educate some of the folks from Western Carolina who are with us to test our forensic skills. By this we should gain a new strength of force. Because we got that old saying one team one fight and for this we are essentially meat turning into one team,” said Greene.
Security forces were not the only personnel learning, in a real-world scenario reaching a crashed F-15 in the woods could prove a difficult task for emergency responders, this is where the 145th Airlift Wing’s Civil Engineer Squadron comes into play.
“We have two skid loaders that are part of our degree package unit, these enable us to be able to move large logs out of roadways, the primary mission of this debris removal kit is to be utilized during disasters so that local emergency response can get to injured victims or open roadways back up,” said Tech. Sgt. Adam Palmer, a heavy equipment operator with the 145th Airlift Wing Civil Engineer Squadron.
“I believe this type of training is crucial to mission success not every day we get to utilize this equipment in a real-world event so any training that we are able to get makes up are prepared when we do go out and work on those real-world events,” said Palmer.
Outside of the 145th Airlift Wing, Vigilant Catamount brought together personnel from the Transylvania, Graham, Swain, and Henderson County sheriffs and police departments, Tennessee Valley Authority, North Carolina Cherokee reservation, Western Carolina University’s cadaver dogs, North Carolina State University’s Next Generation Air Transport division, active duty airmen from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, and the Army National Guard.
To help all these moving pieces communicate was the 145th Airlift Wings Mobile Emergency Operations Center. Run by emergency managers Tech. Sgt. Mark Fow and Tech. Sgt. Cornell Turrentine Jr., the Mobile Emergency Operations Center provided advanced communication services throughout each training simulation.
“This trailer is an all-inclusive command and control unit. We’ve got satellite, data, WI-FI, direct tv, news channels, radio, pretty much anything you can think of is all onboard on this trailer and a bunch of workstations for people to be able to operate from,” said Fow.
During the training incident commanders and exercise planners utilized the Operations Center to coordinate tasks and personnel increasing the success of force integration. As Tech. Sgt. Fow stated, “Interoperability is huge, and it’s honestly a really amazing opportunity to be able to take this Air National Guard asset and make sure that everyone is exposed to it.”
Similarly for Lt. Col. Thompson, “The takeaway that I would like for the airman of the 145th and the state of North Carolina is that we can be called upon at any time to take actions with one another, and our big thing is that we don’t care how we do it, as long as we all work together to accomplish and negate the event that the incident commander is trying to solve.’”
Check out the full gallery of photos from the 145th Airlift Wing at: