Wisconsin Guard members take part in national emergency response exercise

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Brian Faltinson
  • Wisconsin National Guard
Nearly 600 Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers and Airmen were among more than 1,100 military personnel - as well as local, state and federal emergency responders from across the nation - to converge on the Wisconsin Air National Guard's Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center July 13-20 for the National Guard's PATRIOT 12 domestic response exercise.

PATRIOT 12 gauges the National Guard's ability to assist a variety of civilian emergency response agencies during a large-scale disaster or other domestic emergency. This year's exercise revolved around several powerful - but notional - earthquakes causing catastrophic damage to the Appleton, Wis., area. In the scenario, severe damage to roads, residential and public buildings as well as hospitals quickly overwhelmed local authorities, who requested assistance from state and federal agencies - to include Army and Air National Guard units across the country.

The exercise fits well within Air National Guard Director Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt's vision of the National Guard as the nation's first military responder to domestic emergencies. Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, adjutant general of Wisconsin, stressed the importance of the National Guard training with civilian emergency response agencies.

"The country is relying on the National Guard, and they are relying on us to connect to the other parts of federal government, state government and local government," Dunbar said. "That is what these exercises are about."

Wisconsin National Guard members participated either at the PATRIOT 12 exercise site at Volk Field or at the Wisconsin National Guard Joint Operations Center in Madison. The nature of the exercise allowed several Wisconsin units to accomplish very different training goals.

Capt. Mindy Mingerink, commander of the 32nd Military Police (MP) Company of Milwaukee and Oconomowoc, said the training makes her unit ready to assume responsibility as the Wisconsin National Guard's Quick Reaction Force (QRF). The QRF often is the first unit called upon when the Wisconsin National Guard supports local authorities during an emergency. The exercise allowed the unit to conduct many QRF key tasks. During one scenario, the unit set up road blocks to prevent people from entering a chemically contaminated area. Crowds of people approached the roadblock seeking information and assistance and were met by Sgt. Eugene Aten, who soon calmed the situation.

"They were a little violent at first," Aten said. "I talked them down and let them know that the Red Cross is here to help them out and we are here to help them out."

While the QRF validation was the unit's primary goal, Mingerink was pleased with the training's impact on the unit's younger Soldiers who were attending their first annual training.

"Everyone now sees how the moving pieces work together," she said.

The collaborative nature of PATRIOT 12 allowed the Madison-based 54th Civil Support Team (CST) to train with their counterparts from Alaska and New Jersey, as well as an FBI evidence collection team. The 54th facilitated several training events where all four organizations learned from each other and shared best practices. Lt. Col. Timothy Metcalf, of New Jersey's 21st CST, said he had "been to exercises where you don't have as much facilitation as you need, and having Wisconsin CST facilitate us and Alaska coming out here is invaluable - it really adds a bigger dimension to our learning curve on what we are doing."

The 724th Engineer Battalion of Chippewa Falls had two missions at PATRIOT 12. Its headquarters element commanded a National Guard Reaction Force (NGRF), a support force to local authorities, and honed the coordination and planning skills needed to direct units during an emergency response.

"The result of the exercise is that the 724th headquarters will be validated to act as the NGRF for Wisconsin beginning in September," said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Kaluzny of the 724th.

Some of the battalion's troops supported the entire event as role players and provided general support behind the scenes. Although not involved in any exercise scenarios, the refueling section of Company A, 724th Engineer Battalion of Hayward conducted round-the-clock refueling missions for equipment used during the exercise.

"It is good to be able to do your job, get your hands on the equipment, and re-familiarize yourself," Sgt. David Herman said about the opportunity for the refueling section to perform its core function at PATRIOT 12.

The exercise also provided an opportunity for the Wisconsin National Guard's Joint Staff to practice its domestic response skills. The Joint Staff provides command and control of Wisconsin National Guard units during domestic operations. During PATRIOT 12, it directed the operations of all military units deployed to the state for the disaster. An important aspect of the Joint Staff's mission is to send a four-person situational awareness team to the disaster site in order to gain a full understanding of the situation.

"We try to get that initial picture," said Staff Sgt. Douglas Krueger, "so that the Joint Staff can have good situational awareness of the event as it's unfolding."

"The training allowed us to exercise and validate our policies, procedures and protocols that would be required of us during a domestic operation," added Col. Todd Nehls, chief of staff for the Joint Staff. "It exposed us to the difficulty in coordination and establishing unity of effort with interagency partners. If it is difficult to do during an exercise, then just how much more difficult would it be during a real-world event?"

PATRIOT 12 provided Brig. Gen. Scott Legwold, Wisconsin National Guard Joint Staff director, an opportunity to exercise his emergency response role as dual-status commander - a unified military command and control position signed into law last year.

"A dual-status commander can direct both federal and state military forces in response to a domestic incident or pre-planned event," explained Maj. Matthew Storms, a Joint Staff operational planner. "Prior to the creation of the dual-status commander role, there was not a clear way in which this could be done."