ARNORTH Exercise a Success
by Sgt. 1st Class Brad Staggs, Atterbury-Muscatatuck Public Affairs
MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. – July 21 through August 7th, Vibrant Response 14 -- a U.S. Army North homeland emergency response exercise -- took Muscatatuck in southern Indiana and turned it into a true city in distress.
Exercise participants arrive to see clothes hanging from trees, a flooded neighborhood with victims that need to be rescued, and a real train which appears to be dangling precariously from a destroyed railroad trestle in order to simulate the aftermath of a nuclear attack.
What participants don't see is everything that takes place behind-the-scenes, much like what happens on a movie or TV show set. Planning for the exercise begins the day the previous year's exercise is over. After action reviews provide important feedback which will go into the planning phase and allow the staff at Muscatatuck to improve the venues they provide the next year.
Command Sgt. Maj. Tyrone Benham, the Muscatatuck NCOIC, has been with the facility since its inception in 2005 and has been the driving force behind manpower needs and set-up for Vibrant Response at the facility, a task that begins over a month before the actual event.
"It takes months to plan an exercise of this size," Benham says. "We are in contact at least monthly with someone planning for the event, but this does not take planning conferences into the mix."
Benham says that it takes an average of 50 personnel to run the exercise from Muscatatuck each day plus the number of people it takes to run the facility itself on a daily basis.
"The biggest challenge [for me] is man-power," Benham continued. "Setting up the facility, operating effects, Mayor cell operations, Joint Operations Cell operations, Logistics and Disaster Medical Assistance Team operations all take personnel that need to understand their duties."
This year, the Indiana National Guard approved annual training time for Soldiers to work at Muscatatuck during the exercise, doing jobs such as running effects and resetting venues every night in order to make the behind-the-scenes portion of a smoking, flaming city run smoothly.
"The support we receive from the state of Indiana is just amazing," Mike Rozypal, U.S. Army North's on-site exercise manager during all seven iterations held at Muscatatuck, told a group of Generals and congressional staffers gathered to tour and learn more about the exercise. "Without them and the people of Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck who work with us every day, this exercise wouldn't be possible."
The Indiana National Guard is constantly thinking about how to give the best training environment possible for the lowest cost, especially with funding being at a premium, according to Indiana Assistant Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Omer Tooley.
"We are in keeping with the military's training imperative "train as you will fight" and the institutional imperative of "being good stewards of the taxpayers money"," Tooley said. "The foundation of success for Vibrant Response provided by Atterbury-Muscatatuck is its ability to create an immersive training experience characterized by a highly complex civilian urban environment set in an accurate geographic battlespace while providing opportunity to collaboratively interact with actual local, state and regional civilian jurisdictions and Title 32 capabilities at a cost that absolutely cannot be matched anywhere else."
During Vibrant Response 14, more than 5,500 personnel from as far away as Texas participated. With that many people, the 1,000 acre Muscatatuck site looked more like a traffic jam than a city, but making sure that the exercise kept moving was one of the many jobs for the site professionals.
"Real world, this is confusing for all agencies involved," says MUTC Site Commander Lt. Col. Barry Hon. "When you throw in that confusion, the Exercise Control team responsibilities, support teams from contractors, ARNORTH and other entities, it is amazing how the leaders of each synchronize to ensure it is an effective exercise."
Hon explains that his MUTC team, led by Benham, does their absolute best to keep the exercise moving, even when other entities are holding training exercises on other parts of the facility at the same time. MUTC personnel role-playing policeman keep traffic moving and training units away from each other, sometimes being only one street apart.
Hon, rightly so, expressed his pride in his Soldiers and employees. "I frequently use the term that we offer a premier facility to "train our nation's best", but this exercise also illustrates that the MUTC full time National Guard, Contractors, Federal Technicians and State Employees are the "nation's best" to ensure exercises such as Vibrant Response are completed successfully."
After spending more than a month to set-up the exercise and three weeks to perform the exercise while resetting the facility every night, it will take about three days to get the facility back to a steady state appearance. Metal will be picked up and stored, clothing littering the streets and trees will be cleaned and placed into trash bags, and destroyed vehicles will be placed out of the way... until the next time they're needed when the whole process starts all over again.
Visit the Vibrant Response 14 page for more information and media links.
Photo left: An aerial view of Muscatatuck Urban Training Center during Vibrant Response 14. Vibrant Response 14 is a major field training exercise conducted by U.S. Northern Command and led by U.S. Army North. U.S. Army North conducts Vibrant Response 14 to confirm the operational readiness and tactical capabilities of major elements of the Department of Defense's specialized forces designed to respond to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) incidents in support of local, state and federal civilian agencies. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brad Staggs, Atterbury-Muscatatuck Public Affairs)
Photo right: Firefighters from the Atlantic region strike-team embark on a rescue mission in a flooded area of a city. Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Ind., features a simulated flooded village where rescue personnel have an opportunity for realistic training. The strike team consists of civilian firefighters assembled from the Fort Knox, Fort Benning and Fort Jackson Fire Departments working together as a single unit at a time of emergency. Vibrant Response is a major field training exercise conducted by U.S. Northern Command and led by U.S. Army North. Approximately 5,000 service members and civilians from the military and other federal and state agencies throughout the country are training to respond to a catastrophic domestic incident. As a component of U.S. Northern Command, Army North coordinates timely federal military response to disasters in the homeland to help the American people in a time of need. (US Army photos taken by SPC. Alexander Skripnichuk/released)