By Staff Sgt. David Bruce, Atterbury-Muscatatuck Public Affairs
U.S. Army North’s exercise Vibrant Response, held at the Atterbury-Muscatatuck Complex comes to a close Aug. 28. Vibrant Response is an exercise that evaluates the military, both active and reserve components and National Guard of various states to respond to a terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction.
According to Marine Chief Warrant Officer Rodney Freeman, incident response force commander for the Marine Corps Chemical Biological Incident Response Force from Indianhead, Md., the premise for the training scenario is that a 10-kiloton nuclear bomb was detonated in Cincinnati.
“In this training exercise we were requested by state authorities to assist in casualty rescue and decontamination,” said Freeman. “Once on site, we work hand-in-hand with local authorities and support them.”
The CBIRF is a dedicated Chemical, Biological Radiological/Nuclear response force and can mobilize within 24 hours on no notice to anywhere in the country, said Freeman. Once they get to the incident, the Marines assess the hazards, set-up decontamination and affect tactical rescue of casualties.
During the course of Vibrant Response, the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex was transformed into a post-apocalyptic wasteland simulating the outlying areas of Cincinnati. Smoke billowed from buildings, make-shift signs with pleas for help adorn structures, mannequins simulating casualties lay in rubbles piles and role-actors playing the part of a displaced, injured and confused citizenry all add to the illusion of a nuclear attack.
Abigail Wright, a role-actor from Indianapolis, said the setting created was realistic. She explained part of that setting is the back story behind each “victim” and their circumstances.
“Today, I fell from a 20-foot bale of hay on a farm when the bomb happened four days ago and (have been) waiting for rescue,” she said of her role-playing story. “Later, I’ll be at a relief center at a soccer stadium.”
Wright, like most of the role-actors, had received make-up and other props to simulate various injuries sustained when the attack occurred.
“This is a really interesting mission. It really gets you thinking about disaster preparation,” she said.
The whole purpose for Vibrant Response is to ensure that federal and state forces are prepared to respond when needed, said Lt. Col. Tom Bright, chief of exercises for U.S. Army North.
“We have in excess of 6,000 personnel trained. The federal and National Guard response to a potential CBRN event is America’s insurance policy,” he explained. “If that response is the insurance policy, then the exercise, Vibrant Response, is the underwriting of that policy. It is what ensures that federal and state forces are prepared to respond when America needs us.”
Vibrant Response is an annual training event projected currently to reoccur late summer of next year through 2015, said Bright. It is an annual exercise because participation by units rotates.
“There are some forces that will be on mission for two years, but a lot of subordinate units are only on mission for one year. So what we do is exercise the capability of those senior units at the (colonel) and (major general) level to command and control those forces and at the same time, we’re training those subordinate units all the way down to the company and platoon level in their technical ability to accomplish the mission,” said Bright.
One of the draws to have this event at the Atterbury-Muscatatuck Complex was the amount of territory and facilities at their disposal for the exercise, said Bright.
“This is an excellent venue to train because there is a lot of territory available to us which forces us to manage the mission across a large land space. There are also rubble piles and urban environments that we can replicate the sort of incidents that we’ll see if we realize an event like a 10-kiloton nuclear device detonated in an American city,” said Bright.
The Vibrant Response exercise drew units from across the services with a variety of specialties. Chemical units tested for radioactive fallout and set-up decontamination areas for the simulated casualties. Medical personnel treated and evacuated casualties. Engineer companies preformed route clearance, removing debris and freeing blocked roadways for use as well as clearing rubble piles and buildings.
“We are clearing roads to give first responders ease of mobility,” said Capt. Kari Haravitch, commander of 15th Engineer Company stationed at Fort Knox, Ky. “We cleared two roads and reconned a third. We also provided casualty assistance and civil aid.”
“This was a great training event. We learned a lot and understood how to work with civil authorities. We have good training facilities at Fort Knox, but it’s great to take advantage of what Muscatatuck offers,” added Haravitch.
The Vibrant Response exercise was part of the 15th Engineer Company’s training process for their assumption of the homeland defense mission in October, said Haravitch.
“It tells (U.S. Army North) that we are ready and can be called on to do whatever needs to be done,” she said. “I’m proud of the great job my Soldiers and leaders did to accomplish the mission and address issues that came up. Overall the mission was a complete success.”
Sometimes, the rush to render aid can add to the chaos of a disaster. According to John Branum, an observer-controller with U.S. Army North, an incident command post is set up with a local authority as incident commander.
“The military units that respond will check in with the incident commander. They will inform him how many people, what their assets are,” said Branum. “The incident commander will have a set of mission objectives that the military units will go to work on.”
Units sent out on mission will leave a liaison officer or noncommissioned officer behind at the incident command post, said Branum.
“They serve as a conduit of information between the units in the field and the incident commander,” said Branum.
There is a carry-over effect in preparing for what Bright calls National Planning Scenario One; that of a nuclear device used on a U.S. city.
“Both, a natural disaster, what we call an all hazards mission and national Planning Scenario One, responses have similarities. You’re going to have technical and general support forces that are required for relief of American citizens,” Bright said. “In planning for a tough mission like Vibrant Response, it gets us ready for those all hazards missions. This is a mission we can take pride in.”
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