If you hang around long enough

The members of our team have spent more time together in these past three weeks than many of us would care to admit. After five exercises together, everyone is feeling pretty relaxed around each other. In the beginning, the chat was all work and little laughter. We were all mission focused; doing our part for improving the nation’s homeland defense forces. The Commanding General that year made a great closing speech about how important our work was and that the nation appreciated our efforts. It was a great feeling to say the least.

As the exercises continued year after year, relationships developed and grew. Everyone started to feel comfortable around each other; understanding each others relationship to one another. This year, we had a well oiled machine that ran seamlessly and enjoyed each others company. Collectively, our role has been to provide the training audience with realistic scenarios and role players to replicate the circumstances that they would encounter in the execution of their missions.  Last night, after a particularly challenging day of last minute changes, one team member said “This doesn’t have to make sense, we just have to be able to say it with a straight face.” It described what has been going on so well these past three weeks.

I have previously talked about acronyms and sayings but left one off. Yesterday, it became apparent that we reached a critical point in the training – loss of inertia. We had been using  this next phrase to describe an event or two but it finally became the description of the current event; it was a SLICC – Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone. Our local definition was “we are doing all of this to train ourselves.” Simply, we were enjoying our own work. If you look up SLICC in the urban dictionary, you’ll find this definition: “An organization or entity whose sole purpose is promoting its own existence and splendor.” I immediately contacted my daughter, the talented graphic designer that she is, to create a photo for us. This is what she came up:

This design was incorporated into our mid-day briefing and was sent to a number of people in our Emergency Operations Center for future use. We all had a few laughs and pushed through the rest of the day. NIce job Erin! Everyone says thanks.

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Fact, Fiction or both?

As we crest the hill for Vibrant Response 13, it is time to shed a little more light on this whole exercise. Command and Control(C2) elements (C2CRE and DCRF) are the primary training audience for this event. Each “element” has subordinate units assigned to address the needs of the civilian authority requesting assistance. The DoD is subordinate to the local authority, which in many cases will be the State. When state resources are reduced/depleted, they request assistance from the federal government. We usually see this with FEMA assisting during disasters.

National Guard troops are governed under Title 32 of the United States Code which allows them to function under the direction of the Governor to preform basic “maintain order” missions of which disasters are recognized. Federal military forces are governed by Title 10 and are under the direction of the President. Title 32 forces can be federalized into Title 10 forces by order of the President, which is how NG troops are sent to foreign wars. The C2 elements were activated following the events of 9/11 and Katrina. The key guiding principle is that they support the civilian authority. In fact, federal forces are prohibited from carrying weapons on US soil.

The C2 elements bring their assigned resources in aviation, operations, medical and logistics to assist. The exercise is designed by the 5th Army’s training arm – ARNORTH. They are set up in two areas of Indiana to replicate the events I’ve been describing. The Muscatatuck Urban Training Center(MUTC) is located outside of Seymour IN and at Camp Atterbury outside of Edinburg IN. They have venues that include crashed a helicopter and airplane, damaged buildings, subways, rubble piles for victims, ground transportation areas, landing zones and a vacant city that was once the state hospital complex. They use hundreds of people portraying “victims” who go through “make-up” to appear as injured. There is also a news crew that produces twice daily broadcasts using live footage they shoot throughout the day. It’s a real production.

We are running about 15 missions a day now at the two venues, which is significantly less than last week. In addition to overseeing the missions, we also provide current SA/SU (situational awareness/situational understanding) to the group role playing the State agencies and to the ExCon (Exercise Control) group. We are able to provide them with current mission status with our field commanders reports to us in the Area Command.

We have a few more days of events before it ends on Monday. Not a lot will change between now and then which, may make this my last post on the Vibrant Response Exercise. Send me comments if there’s something you want to know about.

Here we go again

The second phase of Vibrant Response kicked off on Sunday with series of small explosions and two nuclear devices detonating but not at their full strength. The Governor had ordered everyone in the effected area to remain in place until further notice. Today, he ordered the evacuation of more than one million people and has requested federal support. The US Army has deployed two Task Forces of resources to assist. This version of the exercise is for the C2CRE – Command/Control of CBRN Response Element. Yes, is an acronym within an acronym: CBRN is Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear.

There will be fewer troops moving on this event and fewer live missions for this portion. The missions on Sunday and Monday were completed by a single resource who rescued 60 live people. The number of missions and troops has no bearing on my work schedule, long days that repeat over and over. The movie “Groundhog Day” is exactly what its like.

In the meantime, I was sent these in an e-mail and pulled out a few of the best enjoy – IRONY:

 

Alphabet Soup

Tomorrow, the Exercise Director will call EndEx or End of Exercise for this portion of the mission, known as VR 13 – DCRF 1 – Vibrant Response 13 for Defense Consequence Response Force 1. Basically, the training and evaluation of the JTF-CS (see previous posts). The daily missions continued with water purification, mass casualty decontamination, chemical detection and identification, search and rescue, search and extraction from rubble piles and collapsed buildings, transportation of supplies via ground and air and the creation of a civilian relief center. In total over 250 missions will have been completed in about 7 days. A lot was learned by the training audience has occurred which is what we came here to do. Sometime tomorrow, we will start to shift to VR 13 – C2CRE A&B or Vibrant Response 13 for Command and Control for the CBRN Response Elements A and B (yes, an acronym within an acronym). The mission will continue with a new training audience and a new command staff.

I thought a little insight into military speak would be fun – alphabet soup as I call it. Here it is as it sounds with the acronyms attached: ” We need a R-FF (RFF) sent through Jiff-flick(JFLCC) to NorthCom for the crest(CREST) to report to the fob (FOB) in the Joe ah (JOA). They will be establishing a dee see r see(DCRC) as requested in the may toe(MATO) and for an e-med(EMEDS) unit. They however, must wait for the frag-go(FRAGO) to be cut.

In english, this reads like: We need a request for forces(RFF) through the joint forces land component command(JFLCC) to Northern Command for the contingency real estate support team(CREST) to report to the forward operating base(FOB) in the joint operations area(JOA). They will be establishing a displaced civilians relief center(DCRC) as requested in the military assignment task order(MATO) and for an expeditionary medical support unit(EMEDS). They however must wait for the fragmented order(FRAGO) to be cut.

One of our new guys has been compiling a list of these and so far has encountered over 150 of the ones that didn’t make sense to him. The scary thing is that I knew most of them when he asked me. I hope that after 21 days of this two things don’t happen 1) I start talking like this 2) My writing is effected because everything I write now is a lot of alphabet soup.

TTFN

Tata for now…

A General Alert

Okay, all drama aside; here’s a little insight into Vibrant Response. We are running a live mission and simulation exercise that is training and in some cases, evaluating the military forces. The land component command staff is the Joint Task Force Civil Support, which is directed by a Lt. General (2 star). This group, known as JTF-CS has four subordinate task forces that control aviation, medical, operations and logistics. Under those groups are brigades, battalions, companies, platoons and squads, all of which total 4632 people. The simulated forces total over 17,000. They move those simulated troops as well by issuing orders and tracking their movement. The JTF-CS is comprised of Navy, Marines, Air Force and Army personnel. The Command is rotated by each branch, this year it’s from the Army, the past two years it was from the Air Force.

They have reported rescuing 12,000 victims so far of which 2500 have been real rescues by real people. My role in the Area Command post is to direct the operations of those forces to achieve our desired missions. I am one of 50 contractors working on just the coordination and execution of live missions. There are another 450 people working on the exercise control and role playing of the various state officers and victims. We are running this segment of the exercise through Friday and then we’ll reset to do it again starting Sunday with a different command element.

Wednesday 8/1, we will have the NorthCom Commander (4 stars) and a Deputy Secretary of Defense visit the exercise. NorthCom (Northern Command) is responsible for all forces in North America and is a member of the joint chiefs. In addition, The Adjutant General, also known as the TAG (3 stars) from Indiana and a Rear Admiral will visit. The TAG is the Indiana National Guard’s Commander. We have had several Generals from various commands visit over the past two days which is keeping the Public Affairs Office (PAO) and the Joint Visitors Bureau (JVB) very busy. I’m thinking a lesson in acronyms is needed soon.

Below is a photo of the sky following the massive thunderstorm that came through on Tuesday night. The weather is always part of the story.

 

Help is on the way

The now confirmed nuclear detonation is starting to take its toll. The evacuation of half a million people has been ordered by the governor and shelters are starting to open. Four military hospitals are in bound and an “emergency room” type facility has already set up. To date, more than 4000 people have been rescued and over 2000 victims have been decontaminated. We started overnight operations last night and will run 24 hours for the next 14 days. Twenty helicopters are moving victims and supplies throughout the area.

We are actually working in Indiana on two bases that are about 60 miles apart. As of last night, 3659 people are assigned in some role to this exercise. We have two daily briefings 7am and 7pm, below is a photo of the start of the 7pm (1900hrs) briefing.

The briefings are for the Commanding General of the 5th Army (3 stars) and his staff. We have been working through the challenges of managing air, land and human resources. The progress is slow for this training event. The other photo is a close up of the title and logo for the event.

On another note, I’m excited to report that  I’ve heard from the editor of the Anthology book that my first short story will be published in. Here’s what she had to say: “I liked the taut pace of Revelation.  From the first few sentences you managed to drop the reader into the middle of the action without making me feel lost — a hard thing to accomplish.  You provided the right number of details to allow the reader to know what was going on but also didn’t elaborate too much, which helped the pacing immensely.  Too many details would have just dragged the story down, and I’m glad you didn’t give in to them.”

Needless to say, I’m very happy and proud to hear these comments. We expect the book to be published by the end of October and will be available in electronic or paperback versions.

More than Indiana

1996 American LaFrance Pumper with fresh paint and a light package.

I’ve have nothing related to my writing or business but this is something that I’m excited to talk about. My work with a local community college has kept me busy for the past few weeks working as we’ve on ordering equipment, hiring instructors and taking delivery of a fire truck for the new fire academy. It has been fun and a lot of work, so I thought that I’d share a photo of our new fire truck. It has been a long time since I purchased a truck, let alone a used one. Just like buying a used car, you never really know what you’ll get. This is a very clean truck and will serve our students well for several years to come.

We have also reviewed a number of applications for both Instructor and technician positions. We’ll have a great cadre of instructors to ensure that the students get a great experience and come out ready to serve their communities.

Tomorrow’s post will be back to the exercise in Indiana, today is a little slow as forces move into the area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Houston, we have a problem

We’ve spent the past couple of days setting up an Area Command Post, getting ready for this large scale exercise. We’ll go through three command changes and have oversight of 335 missions between now and Aug 3rd. All of the planning has been coordinated and this morning the first “news cast” was sent.  The breaking news given to the troops deployed here is that a large explosion has occurred in a mid-western city. Later it was reported that a mushroom cloud could be seen miles away. Tens of thousands are feared dead and more are injured. Here in lies their problem. Not only do they have to deal with the event

Initial National Guard troops are on the ground looking for victims and establishing control zones with four specific missions. The President has declared a disaster allowing the US Army forces to deploy into the area over the next 24-36 hours.

In the real-world, the weather is the story here. I haven’t seen dark brown and dried lawns like this since the late 1980’s. Corn crops are short and several fields have already been plowed under and being replanted. The temps have been in the upper 90’s with humidity in the mid 50’s. The AC in our command and control building was out yesterday afternoon and this morning. I shouldn’t complain but with a room full of people and computers then topped off by no air movement, it got a little uncomfortable. A cold front is coming through this afternoon, with severe weather and cooler temps behind it. They are predicting a great weekend, good for the troops, no difference to me.

Stay tuned…

Let the fun begin!

One of the many hats I wear is one of a Military contractor, specifically the U.S.Army. Tomorrow, I’ll embark on a three week journey to, hold your breath, Central Indiana. I will be participating in a National Level Exercise (aka, War Game) for our Homeland Defense Forces under the direction of the Joint Task Force – Civil Support command, an arm of the US Northern Command. The exercise will include 4000 soldiers from around the country and about 1500 contractors and support personnel.

My “plan” is to blog regularly about what we are doing in support of the exercise. I need to apologize up front over the general nature of the posts as I’ll speak in generalities due to the security of the mission. I will be functioning as an Assistant Area Commander over seeing multiple civilian command posts. The troops work for these CP’s as they work to complete their missions. The US Military can only operate on US soil under the direction of civilian commanders except during a war. We are providing that layer for them.

I hope you will keep reading during this time, it should be interesting and a complete change for what I’ve been doing the past few months.

So, you’re a writer?

I might be on to something here. So far I have been published in two text books and I am under contract for two more. Technical writing is fairly easy because it is, well, technical. I enjoy the process of creative writing and look forward to spending more time doing that. I just heard that I’ll have an article that I wrote printed in Fire Chief magazine this August. I wrote about the military’s ability to respond to natural and man made disasters. It will be cool to see my name in print for a magazine with tens of thousands of readers.

I also submitted my first short story for consideration in a collection of short stories in an Anthology. The West Valley Writers accepted my work and we will be publishing it this summer. It’s a little story that I started here about the hired killer John and his “girl friend” who is not what he thought she was. It will be available on Amazon and Nook but look for more on that.

My book is moving slowly but I do have some interest by the publisher of Guideposts. I hope to be ready for editing later this year.