OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (8/18/2012) - Under a dark and swollen early morning sky, leaders of Joint Task Force 71, Texas Army National Guard, walked the grounds of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum as part of a two day staff ride designed to offer valuable insight into the tactics, techniques and procedures employed by the first responders of the time.2
With its reflecting pools, fresh cut grass, and straight, clean-lined structures, the memorial was designed to be a place of peace and reflection. Yet, for the men and women of JTF-71, it also stood as a powerful and sobering reminder of the current threat of domestic terrorism.
Members of the Texas National Guard's Joint Task Force 71 visited the Oklahoma City Memorial and Museum Aug. 18, 2012, in order to discuss and witness the lessons learned during the attack of April 19, 1995. This staff visit is part of the task force's curriculum of knowledge to better deploy as the homeland response force for FEMA Region. Photo by Army Capt. Adam Musil
"A staff ride is designed to bring to life historic encounters at the same place and terrain where an incident took place," said Col. Lee Schnell, commander for JTF-71. "Visiting the Oklahoma City bombing site provides our service-members and leaders with the unique opportunity to learn from this terrible attack and think about how our homeland response force would react if a situation like this happens again."
Responding to attacks and incidents is nothing new to the members of this Texas National Guard force, many of whom are veterans of the wars in Iraqi and Afghanistan. However, responding to a domestic attack presents a different set of challenges. When an incident occurs stateside, the Texas National Guard homeland response force is just one of many resources that may be called to the scene. Other agencies on the scene include the police forces and fire departments, both of which responded to the attack in Oklahoma City. One of those men was Mike Shannon, who at the time of the attack, served as the special operations chief of the Oklahoma City Fire department. Shannon met with the service members and discussed some of the challenges he faced during the disaster.
"You'll never know what to expect when you arrive on the scene," Shannon said. "The best you can do is remember your training, be flexible, be logical, and be practical."
Amy Downs was one of the many victims who benefited from Mr. Shannon's steady hand and solid leadership that day. Amy worked at a credit union on the third floor of a building adjacent to the blast site.
"After the explosion it felt like I was shot in the back of the head," Downs said. "I went unconscious and when I came to I was on the first floor of the building and trapped under rubble. I started to yell like a child until the firefighters found me. Their way of reassuring me was to say they would 'try to get me out'. I told them afterwards next time they need to lie better."
What the firefighters lacked in bedside manner, Downs said they made up for in professionalism. After her rescue, Downs visited the firefighters with a plate full of cookies.
"I feel so blessed to be alive today," Downs said. “From this experience I have learned that it's not what happens to us, but how we respond to it. You only have one life and you have to live it."
As service members toured the facility, many were visibly unnerved by the museum, some having to step away and collect themselves. Capt. Mitch Fuller, a resident of Oklahoma City at the time of the bombing, was directly affected by the attack.
"I was born in Oklahoma City," said Fuller, "in a hospital a few blocks from Ground Zero and have lived most of my life in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area. I was 50 miles away from Ground Zero on April 19, 1995. I know two survivors and served in the Army Reserves with one of them. I am glad to be part of a team that has the ability to directly respond to an event such as the Oklahoma City Bombing."
In the 17 years since the Oklahoma City bombing the Department of Defense has established the Department of Homeland Security, in large part due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and has established 10 National Guard-sourced homeland response forces. These units are regionally located and focus on biological, radiological, nuclear, and high explosive consequence response forces. In short, these units are designed to respond tactically and efficiently in the event of another domestic terror event. For Col. Schnell, he believes with proper training and education his team will be up to the challenge.
“I know this staff ride has affected a lot of our service members and I hope they take what they have learned this weekend and share with their subordinates and leadership. Much like the minutemen from whom we take our name, our team must always be prepared and have our go bags ready and respond at a moment's notice.”
By Army Capt. Adam Musil
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