FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – Members of the Pennsylvania National Guard of the state’s Homeland Response Force conducted a training exercise Nov. 17-20.
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 the Fort Indiantown Gap “rock pile.”
The scenario for the exercise was a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear event in a major city, said Lt. Col. Robert Cuthie, the HRF’s executive officer and officer in charge of the exercise.
“These drills allow us to practice mission leadership so everyone in the room understands when we’re called into action, we understand exactly how we communicate and work together, but also how we work with civil authorities,” Cuthie said.
“We have a new system that we are getting service members used to to conduct mission commands,” he said. “So soldiers are training this software and learning how to integrate it with our command posts so they can use it to share information and make sure everyone has a common operational picture.”
The HRF, which has around 30 full-time employees, usually conducts exercises twice a year. But most of its members only train together during those two exercises, Cuthie said.
“Most of these people come together at this event, get to know each other and practice their procedures. We build ours [standard operating procedures] and we are preparing all our equipment should we be called up,” said Cuthie, commander of 2nd Squadron, 104th Cavalry Regiment, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. “We always teach new people what their job is, how to integrate and become part of the team.”
At the cairn – a pile of concrete slabs, damaged vehicles and other debris meant to simulate the aftermath of a bombing or CBRN event – soldiers from the 3rd CBRN Task Force practiced exercises they would use on a collapsed structure. These included drilling and cutting concrete, moving large debris with crowbars and pipes, and bracing unstable objects.
“We have a fairly new team,” said Staff Sgt. Jacob Van Keuren, non-commissioned officer for search and extraction training with the 3rd CBRN Task Force. “We train them to work in their (enclosure) suits because their dexterity is very limited.”
Van Keuren said exercises like this are very beneficial, especially with so many new task force members.
“It’s great that they go through the moves and get hands-on experience, especially in their suits, because those are very ephemeral skills,” said Van Keuren. “It’s like any other military task: you have to do the task to master it.”