News | June 6, 2017

When Hard Work Meets Reality

By Tammy Cario Joint Task Force Civil Support

CAMP ATTERBURY, IN – – Working at a headquarters is, more often than not, about planning. Planning for logistics of troops, the equipment they might take with them or of training they might need for the mission. Headquarter planners rarely get to see what’s happening in the field. Instead, they are glued to their computers, ready for updates, or are in meetings to coordinate with the different divisions. If a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) event were to happen, Joint Task Force Civil Support (JTF-CS) would direct more than 5,000 troops from all over the U.S. In terms of planning, that’s an incredible number of diverse people to move, not to mention the assets and lodging requirements included. And that’s simply moving the troops from one location to another. The real challenge comes when we begin directing the rescue and decontamination process. With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why, during an exercise like Vibrant Response 17 (VR17) that simulates such an event, we might get caught up in only seeing the warehouse where we are working 13, 14, sometimes 15 hours a day. What is happening in the outside world becomes reduced to Mission Assignment Tasking Orders and Operation Orders.

Roughly an hours drive away is a completely different world. Entering the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center is like seeing a town that is in the throes of the aftermath of a disaster. Clothing and building debris are strewn across the field and trees are uprooted. Around the bend, three empty buses are left abandoned in front of a public transportation building with the “P” missing and the “A” askew. Across a field filled with twisted and distorted metal scraps, sheets spray-painted with haunting messages like “Trapped” hang listlessly.

Command Master Chief Jeffrey Covington, JTF-CS’s senior enlisted leader, arranged for a handful of JTF-CS team members to visit the training center where exercise Guardian Response 17 (GR17) was being held, a validation exercise for our Defense CBRN Response Forces (DCRF).

“We get so caught up in our part of the exercise sitting at computers that I wanted to take some people out to get glimpse of what it is that we’re doing in the real world,” said Covington.

In terms of real world, short of seeing an actual CBRN disaster, Muscatatuck in training mode is as close as it gets. Walking around gingerly so we didn’t accidentally kick twisted pieces of garbage, we came across a caved-in parking garage. Cars lay along the outside, glass broken and parts crushed.

Corey Molinelli, an exercise design analyst for U.S. Army North, gave us an impromptu tour of the bottom floor of the garage. Distorted and crushed vehicle frames blocked entrance more than 10 feet into what was now a dangerous obstacle course of broken cement floors and metal beams.

“We provide sustainment training for the units,” explained Molinelli. “I design all the exercises. I put the training scenarios together and then we guide the units.”

Molinelli, who has been doing this with U.S. Army North for 7 years, was a firefighter on an urban search and rescue team for almost 16 years prior. He is also an evaluator for the search and rescue DCRF teams for GR17 to ensure that they are ready to assume the mission for JTF-CS beginning June 1.

“There’s some great props out here at Muscatatuck. We get to do a lot of real neat stuff with the units, things we can’t do anywhere else.”

Along with the physical landmarks, there were also local actors to help add realism.

Earlier, we’d come across a trail of civilians following a soldier down a main roadway that resembled a ghost town. Their cries of distress followed them as they walked toward several tents that had been set up for to decontaminate the survivors, DCRF soldiers met them to help wash the simulated radioactive materials away. With a gas station burning behind the actors, the scene was an eerie one.

Maj. Gen. Richard Gallant, the commander of JTF-CS, helped put things into perspective at change of shift that evening.

“I was there 25 years ago when Hurricane Andrews hit Florida. It looked like Mother Nature took a lawn mower to some of the towns. It was sobering and stuck with me.”

Since that time, Gallant has worked in several different units that have the defense support to civil authorities’ mission.

He continued by saying, we don’t see the devastation from where we sit. That’s why we do these exercises, so we will be ready to jump in and help save lives. Don’t forget that while you’re here, he added.

With scenes from Muscatatuck in mind, the exercise became much more real.

For more information, or to travel with the unit to the Indiana exercise, contact the JTF-CS Public Affairs Office at (757) 501-7850 or email n-nc.jble.jtf-cs.mbx.pao@mail.mil.

For additional information on JTF-CS, visit us online at: www.jtfcs.northcom.mil or www.facebook.com/jtfcs.