VERNON, Indiana – A short drive through a rural setting in Middle America leads to a former state asylum for the mentally ill.
Green fields give way to buildings, roadways and a disaster scene straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster.
Upon arriving at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Soldiers are met with unease and a feeling of helplessness.
Banners hang from the tops of buildings and along walls lining the roads; overturned cars and debris strewn about the lawns and roadways compete for attention.
A Muscatatuck Urban Training Center employee walks along the train graveyard as fire and smoke fill the background on July 23, 2014. Every day during the exercise employees work feverishly to reset the disaster scenario. MUTC is hosting the Vibrant Response 14 exercise for active duty, reserve and National Guard elements responding to a nuclear disaster. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Matthew Thompson)
The former asylum now resembles a destroyed American town. “It's a city in a failed state,” said Capt. Steven Spencer, the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center deputy base operations manager.
A subway station, bus depot, hospital and school lie in ruin awaiting the return of people.
“It is a living, breathing city,” Spencer said. “You cannot go anywhere else and see the complexity and the pride that is put into the work.”
Local, state and national guardsmen spend weeks in preparation for a massive training exercise that includes service members from around the country as well other local, state and federal agencies. Rescue operations begin almost immediately as mannequins and people are pulled from wreckage and abandoned buildings.
Smoke effects, fire and the cries of role players from the local community lend an air of realism to the scenario not found in all of the Army's training programs.
“When you combine the sights, the smells, the sounds and the smoke,” Spencer said. “It adds those other dimensions.”
For three weeks, thousands of service members and other agencies find themselves rotating through a disaster area testing their ability to react to a nuclear attack on our soil.
The Defense Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Response Force and the Command Control Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Response Element work in tandem to rescue people, decontaminate the area and restore the city's way of life.
It takes several weeks of work to set the scene. Between the arrival and departure of the different elements training in the area, more work is put in to recreate the beautiful disaster.
“Every night we do a reset, because we want it to look as real as possible when units come in here,” said 1st Sgt. Bryan Jimenez, the operations noncommissioned officer in charge at MUTC. “People always make fun of us, because we're out there fluffing the clothes. We want the clothes to look as if they were just blown in there. We don't want them to look run over.”
More than a hundred local, state and national guardsmen spend their time replacing clothes, debris and wrecked cars.
“Every day we're doing something to reset,” Jimenez said.
Within a week's time, these men and women work feverishly to recreate an environment not seen in most training scenarios.
At the end of the week, a new unit rolls in through the center of a disaster scenario they will hopefully never see in real life.
“Whether we're simulating a big tornado or a nuclear detonation, you're not just going to see siding off a house,” Jimenez said. “You're going to see that random debris. It's got to look like it just happened.
By U.S. Army Sgt. Matthew Thompson
Provided through DVIDS
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