MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, IN, UNITED STATES --
MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. (Aug. 25, 2021) -- Airmen assigned to the 181st Intelligence Wing participated in joint, military-civilian emergency response exercise, Homeland Defender 2021, at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center Aug. 13 to 15.
Members from the Wing’s emergency response functions deployed to train with Army and civilian partners to respond to a simulated earthquake scenario.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Craig Maschino, the chief of plans integration and execution for the 181st IW, was responsible for ensuring communication and taskings were functional between the Air National Guard and other exercise participants.
“Part of that comes through the process of getting the warning order, and then the operational order,” said Maschino. “We’re seeing how that worked, and more importantly, what the Air Guard can bring to the fight in an operation that has historically been Army.”
181st IW personnel who participated in the exercise included members of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High-Yield Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP), Fatality Search and Recovery Team (FSRT), Chaplain team, Unclassified Processing, Assessment and Dissemination (UPAD) team, and Air Support Operations Squadron. When joined up with Indiana Army personnel in southern Indiana, the participating team totaled over 500 Indiana National Guard members.
That training permitted different agencies and branches of service to interact and work together to address disaster scenarios as a team.
“We work as a joint structure, and we respond to either domestic terrorism type events like biologic radiograph, radiologic, or chemical, in addition to natural disasters like an earthquake or tornado,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Tom Salesbury, the commander of CERFP’s medical element. “We are a kind of stopgap between civilian response and the follow on like [the Federal Emergency Management Agency]. We’re set up to be there [at the emergency location] between 24 and 72 hours.”
One unique aspect of the mission exclusive to the Air National Guard was the presence of the UPAD to assist first responders with traversing disaster areas. Within the first hours of a disaster, the UPAD works with local partners to acquire a library of raw overhead imagery within a disaster area.
“We’ll look for obstructed or cleared roadways, flooded levies and reservoirs, rivers, to plan routes for first responders to access potential victims or critical infrastructure,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jonathon Johnson, an imagery analyst with the UPAD team.
Successfully inserting Air Guard and other organizations’ assets into a cohesive disaster response operation was challenging, but service members were up for the challenge.
“All real-world scenarios look different, but one thing they have in common is chaos,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Marco Arredondo, the UPAD liaison officer to the incident command organization. “It's organized chaos. First of all, you don't know exactly what you have [in disaster situations]. Second of all, you bring in a bunch of people that probably have never worked together. So, there's a confusion as far as what we have, what we have to do, and who can do what. But as long as everyone is trained and has a good attitude, we can get stuff done.”
Moreover, the exercise provided valuable training to assess strengths and weaknesses to ensure that, when the call comes, the Airmen with the 181st will be ready to answer.
“The biggest importance of these [exercises] is to see where we still lack,” said Arredondo. “Everyone that comes here has an idea of how things are supposed to go and how their teams can function. When you come to these exercises, it helps you see if your practice in training actually comes out the way you think it should. And if it doesn't, it exposes where your pitfalls are and areas that you need to work on.”
Joint exercises are vital to the teams who are required to work together at a moment’s notice when disaster strikes. The experience and partner familiarity gained during these exercises are considered key to streamlining efforts and communication and making one cohesive team when time is a critical factor.
“Each of us are from different units, and sometimes even completely different locations,” said Salesbury. “So, if we don't have these exercises, we won't mesh up well. Each time we do these [joint exercises] it's a learning experience.”
Indeed, 181st IW Airmen’s execution of the mission during Homeland Defender demonstrated their ability to adapt to a variety of missions and their versatility to take on new challenges and achieve mission objectives.
Exercises like Homeland Defender provide an effective tool in maintaining operational capabilities that are often required to fulfill the rapid-response needs of the United States during times of emergency and disaster. As demonstrated during Homeland Defender, the 181st IW is able to provide a critical and strategic component to emergency response and assistance in the State of Indiana and beyond.