FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – National Guard members of the state’s Homeland Response Force conducted a training exercise Nov. 17-20.
Nearly 400 soldiers and airmen from Army and Air National Guard units from across the state participated in the exercise, which included mission command and field elements at the Fort Indiantown Gap “rock pile.”
The scenario for the exercise was a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear event in a large city, said Lt. Col. Robert Cuthie, executive officer of the HRF and the officer in charge of the exercise.
“These exercises enable us to practice maintaining mission command so that everyone in the room understands when we are called to deploy, that we understand exactly how to communicate and work together, but also how to work with civilian agencies, ” said Cuthie.
“We have a new system that we’re getting the service members used to, to maintain mission command,” he said. “So, the Soldiers are training on that software and learning how to incorporate it into our command post so they can use it to share information and make sure everyone has a common operating picture.”
The HRF, with a full-time staff of around 30 service members, usually holds exercises twice a year. But most of its members only train together during these two exercises, says Cuthie.
“Most of these people come together for this event and get to know each other and they practice their procedures. We build our [standard operating procedures] and we’re preparing all of our equipment for if we’re called up,” said Cuthie, commander of the 2nd Squadron, 104th Cavalry Regiment, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. “We are always teaching new people what their job is, how they can integrate and be part of the team.”
At the rock pile – a pile of concrete slabs, damaged vehicles and other debris meant to simulate the aftermath of a bombing or CBRN incident – service members from 3rd CBRN Task Force practiced tasks they would employ on a structure that had fall This included drilling and cutting through concrete, moving large debris using bars and pipes, and lifting unstable objects.
“We have a fairly new team,” said Staff Sgt. Jacob Van Keuren, a non-commissioned search and extraction training officer with the 3rd CBRN Task Force. “We get them used to working in their (protective) suits because there is very limited dexterity.”
Van Keuren said exercises like this are very beneficial, especially with so many new task force members.
“It’s great to have them go through the motions, get hands-on experience, especially in their suits, because these are very perishable skills,” Van Keuren said. “It’s just like any other military task: You need to do the task to become proficient at it.”
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