This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri June 20th 2018. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
America’s worst day! We have had Hurricane’s Katrina and Sandy and some really bad ones before them. We have had terrible tornados, the devastating fires in Oklahoma and Kansas, and erupting volcanoes in Hawaii. What could possibly be worse? If you were a victim in one of those you’re probably thinking – not much. What if a nuclear bomb exploded in a major city in the United States? Tens of thousands of casualties, devastation, no utilities, and local/state authorities out of commission or overwhelmed.
The scenario is this; A 20-kiloton nuclear bomb exploded in Bothell, Washington, a suburb outside of Seattle. The death toll is estimated at 20,000 people and rising to an unknown figure. A guess that at least 50,000 need treatment, and there are only 6,000 hospital beds available in the Washington area. Plus it was a “dirty” bomb (= radiation). Debris everywhere, some buildings totally destroyed, some standing with blown out windows and doors with bed sheets hanging asking for assistance, demolished vehicles, smoke pouring out of buildings, power lines and poles on the ground, bodies everywhere, and dazed hungry thirsty people stumbling around like zombies begging for help, and part of the city is flooded. Except this past April, the bodies were mannequins and the people alive were role players, and just that scene was played out at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center (MUTC), a complete city built just to practice responding to that kind of disaster, located outside Butlerville, Indiana.
Every year since 2000 a combination of task forces, of over 5,000 people from 80 units from the Army, the Army Reserve and the National Guard from all across the continental United States, plus elements from the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines come together in a giant rapid response exercise of over 40 mission scenarios to practice responding to just such a disaster. The exercise is called Vibrant Response/Guardian Response.
First there must be an organization cocked and primed ready to immediately respond to such a disaster. The response and support to the people in the event of such a disaster must be pre-planned, organized, coordinated, controlled, and practiced, because saving lives is the mission, so speed in getting to the disaster area is a number one priority. All the divisions, corps, and combat commands train and prepare for combat – war. In 1998 Congress passed the Defense against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act. Which basically directed the United States government to get ready to respond to acts of terrorism. In response to that law, in 1999 the Department of Defense (DOD) created the Joint Task Force-Civil Support (JTF-CS) at Fort Eustis, Virginia, as a subordinate command of the United States Northern Command. It is commanded by a two star general with a staff to anticipate, plan and prepare for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) attacks within the United States.
The US Army Reserve 76th Operational Response Command, located at Salt Lake City, Utah is the Army Reserve’s Center for Defense Support of Civil Authorities. It exists to respond to just that type of disaster. It is commanded by a Major General (two stars) with a full staff. It has two Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) brigades, two augmentation units, twelve Army Reserve Elements, 10 Regional Emergency Preparedness Liaison Office (EPLO) Teams, and 53 State EPLO Teams. The units are disbursed throughout the 48 continental United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The mission and skill sets of the units and Soldiers are as diverse as their locations. Units practice their skills, plus they practice being called up. They practice loading their equipment and driving away, but they also practice coordination with the Air Force to have planes on call, in case they have to get too far to drive, such as from the East coast to the West coast.
At the center of a nuclear disaster or a chemical weapons attack or a biological attack would be the CBRN people. They are prepared to suit-up and work in a toxic environment to decontaminate people and things. All National Guard, Army Reserve, and active Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force CBRN Specialists are trained at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. It is the Army’s CBRN Center and School that trains both enlisted and officers. The 11 week enlisted CBRN Specialist course is known as an intellectually challenging course.
In April, in response to Guardian/Vibrant Response-18, the South Carolina Army National Guard sent its 218th MEB (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade) with Chemical Companies, Engineers with firefighters and search and rescue professionals, medics with Area Support Medical Companies, plus engineers attached from the Indiana Army National Guard. Firefighters and search and rescue from the Army Reserve 468th Engineer Detachment from Danvers, Massachusetts were also there, as was the Army Reserve 409th Area Support Medical Company from Madison, Wisconsin. Active Army units came from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Military Police from the 16th Military Police Brigade, medics, technicians, doctors and equipment from the 44th Medical Brigade, and the 21st Chemical Company from the 82nd Airborne Division.
The Guardian Response part of the giant training exercise is the physical response, with units from all over the nation descending on Camp Atterbury to be given missions of casualty decontamination, casualty air/ground evacuation, temporary hospitalization support, medical augmentations, veterinary support, patient staging and evacuation, medical logistics, alternate medical facilities, and exposure monitoring. Units are given specific missions, as described by Staff Sergeant Ian Kurtinitis of the 468th Engineer Detachment; “Our specific mission is urban search and rescue and specifically, today, to search and rescue a contaminated environment. There’s a subway station that we’re working at and there are people trapped inside. Our mission is to gain access, extract patients and to assist anyone that is ambulatory and to extricate those who are non-ambulatory. But, we are coming into this (scenario) as we’re assisting overwhelmed local entities who have been at this for several days.”
Vibrant Response was more of a command post exercise to practice the administration and logistics of the overall response. It featured realistic situations with hundreds of civilian role-players, as well as sophisticated computer simulations. Some of those participants actually went to Washington, others to Camp Atterbury, and some worked from a computer screen dealing with the innumerable things that can go wrong after people and equipment get involved, such as the airplane transporting the number one search and rescue engineer detachment has a complete electrical malfunction just prior to takeoff. Is there another aircraft at that location? No. How long to get another? Is there another search and rescue detachment ready? If so, where is it, and how long to get it to the scene.
The Commanding General of the US Army Reserve said that Vibrant Response is all about readiness. The 76th Operational Response Command CG, Major General Roper said; “This exercise is really a team sport with many different military and civilian entities coming together to provide realistic and challenging training for our chemical response forces to improve and enhance both the unit and individual Soldiers skill sets.”
Colonel Chris Briand, Chief of Staff of the Army Reserve 78th Training Division and chief of operations for Guardian Response 18, said; “We (the Army) are not in charge at an event. It’s the state incident commander who is in charge.”
Colonel Doug Mills, the 76th ORC Chief of Staff said; “We conduct this training with either actual interagency players that we coordinate and synchronize our operations with or role-players for those agencies.
In a statement about Vibrant Response, US Army North said; “This exercise and all of its processes are crucial to ensuring that the U.S. Army and Department of Defense maintain a trained and ready force that can effectively respond to a national crisis, likely in support of a lead federal agency, in order to save lives and minimize human suffering.”

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