CAMP DENALI, Alaska— When faced with dire circumstances, most
people will resort to either a fight or flight mentality. How a
person reacts is often dictated by whether or not they are prepared
for the situation. In this light, first responders train to mitigate
the instinct to run, and instead, learn to charge forward in the
face of danger for the greater good.
For the National Guard,
the defense in support of civil authorities mission remains one of
the tenants of their organization. The DISCA mission means that in
the event of natural disasters, the National Guard is one of the
first responders activated to support the multitude of organizations
in place to respond to those disasters.
Shield and Vigilant Guard-Alaska 2014 took place across the state,
March 27 through April 2. It was the latest iteration of a
comprehensive exercise involving the Federal Emergency Management
Agency, U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, North America Aerospace Defense
Command, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Transportation Command, the
Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services and many
The Air and Army National Guard had
approximately 1,150 Airmen and Soldiers participating from Alaska,
Hawaii, Ore., Wash., Neb., Wis., Ariz., Calif., Nev., Idaho, Minn.,
N.D. and Utah.
“With Alaska Shield 2014, we commemorate the
50th anniversary of the 1964 earthquake by replicating its
significant damage and corresponding tsunami in order to educate and
prepare participants for potential catastrophic events,” said Maj.
Gen. Thomas H. Katkus, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard
and commissioner of the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans
VG-AK14 kicked off with a mock 9.2-magnitude
earthquake that struck in Jonah Bay in Prince William Sound.
Afterwards, simulated reports began filtering into participating
organizations about the destruction in Anchorage and surrounding
areas. In the exercise scenario, a tsunami ravaged coastal towns
across Alaska following the earthquake.
wheels of the machine began to spin. The National Guard responded by
sending out a recall, accounting for personnel and equipment to get
an accurate picture of what resources they had available to
contribute to the imminent relief effort.
operations center was stood up, housing personnel from numerous
agencies in a central location to consolidate and streamline
interagency coordination for the disaster response. The National
Guard also stood up a joint operations center to coordinate Air and
Army Guard assets.
Information filtered through the EOC and
JOC to be analyzed and discussed by various agencies. This process
then helped determine which unit could best support a specific need.
Within the scenario, the governor declared a state of emergency
and activated the dual-status commander. Dual status commanders are
authorized to command both federal and state forces, allowing the
Department of Defense to achieve unity of effort and continuity of
operations while increasing command flexibility for mission tasking.
The dual-status commander position was filled by Alaska Air
National Guard Brig. Gen. Scott Wenke, commander of the 176th Wing,
which is located on JBER.
“My job here over the next few
weeks or months will be to unify all of our federal Department of
Defense forces in uniform under one unified command to support the
effort of our state and federal partners in recovery, life-saving
and prevention of suffering within the state of Alaska as we dig our
way out of this hole,” said Wenke at a mock press conference.
As the exercise scenarios kicked off, locations around the state
were staged to replicate collapsed buildings, hazardous material
spills, degraded communication capabilities, utility failures and
mass casualties in need of triage.
In Anchorage, a rubble
pile was used to simulate collapsed buildings, and train cars were
used to simulate a derailed train. The National Guard's 103rd Civil
Support Team from Alaska and the 72nd CST from Nebraska combed the
area, looking for chemical spills. Airmen with the Alaska Air
National Guard's 176th Civil Engineer Squadron practiced shoring up
buildings with struts to maintain the structural integrity of
damaged buildings to make it safe for search and rescue teams from
the Anchorage Fire Department to search in the affected structures.
“It's very nice to work with other agencies, not only another
civil support team, but local fire departments and emergency
managers,” said Tech. Sgt. Donovan Garcia, a team chief with the
Members of Oregon and Hawaii's National Guard
Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Enhanced Response Force
Package teams also worked at the rubble pile to practice extracting
casualties, played by moulaged volunteers to bring realism to the
event. Afterwards, the simulated victims were transported to a
medical station there run by the Hawaii Air Guard's 154th Medical
Group for stabilization.
In Palmer, because hospitals were
overwhelmed with damage or at full capacity, a request came in to
set up a medical station at the Palmer Fairgrounds. The National
Guard responded by sending Soldiers from the 207th Battlefield
Support Company to establish an Alaska Medical Station. There,
medical personnel from both civilian and government agencies worked
to help sustain casualties as they came streaming in.
the exercise scenario, reports began filtering in about tsunamis
hitting coastal areas, and communication with towns like Valdez and
Cordova became degraded as utilities failed in the aftermath. With
utilities and resources in short supply, requests for support
Soldiers from Alpha Troop, 1st Battalion, 297th
Cavalry (Reconnaissance and Surveillance Squadron) were sent to
Cordova to assist in the distribution of water to affected citizens
after the utility was damaged, causing local agencies to set up a
desalinization machine to convert salt water into drinkable water.
The Soldiers also worked to communicate updates and provide safety
information with local residents.
In Valdez, a coalition of
local, state and National Guard assets worked to restore
communications capabilities so information about the needs and
situation of the area could reach those tasked with controlling the
response effort. A team from the Wisconsin National Guard's 128th
Air Control Squadron worked with Valdez Emergency Management to set
up a Joint Incident Site Communications Capability at the Alaska
National Guard's Armory there.
“Our mission as a JISCC team
is to provide communication and networking support from one
organization to another — either local, state, military or federal,
including FEMA,” said Staff Sgt. Ryan Miller, a JISCC operator with
the 128th Air Control Squadron, Wisconsin National Guard. “During a
natural disaster, we link one type of communication with another. We
set up antennas and satellite communications and talk across the
world and provide telephone support to the local emergency
While communication capabilities were being
restored in Valdez, elements from the Alaska National Guard's 297th
Military Police Company worked to provide security checkpoints at
the city's hospital, emergency operations center and at an alternate
medical treatment facility operated by Arizona National Guard's
996th Area Medical Support Company.
As the countless problems
developed, the National Guard worked hand in hand with federal and
state agencies through the night, reallocating assets, requesting
additional support or supplies from agencies in other states, and
working to distribute the supplies and efforts as efficiently as
When the smoke finally cleared, the National Guard
conducted after-action reviews to assess their performance in the
overall effort. The process of reviewing data from exercises like
VG-AK14 helps the National Guard refine their processes to better
respond in the event of a real disaster.
“There is no
question that Alaska was an ideal venue for this exercise, which
tested our collective ability to share information among federal,
state, local, tribal and other community organizations and respond
accordingly,” said Katkus.
By Alaska National Guard Sgt. Edward Eagerton
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