FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – Pennsylvania National Guard members of the state’s Homeland Response Force conducted a training exercise 17-20. November.
Nearly 400 Soldiers and Airmen from Army and Air National Guard units from across the state participated in the exercise, which included mission command and field elements at Fort Indiantown Gap’s “rock pile.”
The scenario for the exercise was a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear event in a major city, said Lt. Col. Robert Cuthie, executive officer of the HRF and officer in charge of the exercise.
“These exercises allow us to practice executing mission command so that everyone in the room understands when we are called to deploy, we understand exactly how to communicate and work together, but also how to work with civilian agencies ,” Cuthie said.
“We have a new system that we’re getting the service members used to, to execute mission command,” he said. “So the Soldiers train in that software and learn to incorporate it into our command post so they can use it to share information and make sure everyone has a common operational picture.”
The HRF, with a full-time staff of about 30 service members, typically conducts exercises twice a year. But most of its members train together only during those two practices, Cuthie said.
“Most of these people come together for this event and get to know each other and they practice their procedures. We build our [standard operating procedures] and we’re preparing all of our equipment for if we were to be called up,” said Cuthie, commander of the 2nd Squadron, 104th Cavalry Regiment, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. “We are always teaching new people what their job is, how they can integrate and be part of the team.”
At the rock pile — a pile of concrete slabs, damaged vehicles and other debris meant to simulate the aftermath of a bombing or CBRN event — service members from the 3rd CBRN Task Force practiced tasks they would use at a collapsed structure. It included drilling and cutting through concrete, moving large debris using shovels and pipes, and propping up unstable objects.
“We have a pretty new team,” said Staff Sgt. Jacob Van Keuren, search and recovery training noncommissioned officer with the 3rd CBRN Task Force. “We get them used to working in their (protective) suits because there is very limited dexterity.”
Van Keuren said exercises like this are very beneficial, especially with so many new task force members.
“It’s great to have them go through the motions and get hands-on experience, especially in their suits, because those are very perishable skills,” Van Keuren said. “It’s like any other military task: You have to do the task to become good at it.”
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