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.
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
A subway station, bus depot,
hospital and school lie in ruin awaiting the return of
“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.”
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
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
“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.
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
More than a hundred local, state and national
guardsmen spend their time replacing clothes, debris and
“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.
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
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