By Sgt. 1st Class Rebecca Wood, 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade
PERRY, Ga. — Members of Kentucky’s CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) and 41st Civil Support Team joined more than 8,000 other Soldiers, Airmen and First Responders for Vigilant Guard 17, Mar. 27 – April 2 in various locations throughout Georgia.
Vigilant Guard is a joint regional training exercise sponsored by U.S. Northern Command in conjunction with the National Guard Bureau. The purpose of the exercise is to simulate a real-world natural disaster in order to improve cooperation between agencies in the FEMA Regions in preparing for emergencies and catastrophic events.
Commander of the Kentucky CERFP, Lt. Col. Bill Hatfield said the annual Vigilant Guard exercise was as realistic as it could get.
“This was a great training experience,” said Hatfield. “Any time that the CERFP gets to train with multi-agencies is an opportunity for growth. Working with Alabama CERFP, Georgia Homeland Response Force, the CSTs and civilian first responders provided an element of realism that we normally don’t get in training.”
According to the FEMA website, Region IV consists of Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Region IV’s natural risks include hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, droughts, ice storms, earthquakes, wildfires, and tropical storms. Region IV also houses both nuclear power facilities and chemical weapon stockpiles.
Vigilant Guard 2017’s overall scenario simulated a Category 3 hurricane landfall on the Georgia coast. Other training events consisted of a train derailment, chlorine spill, collapsed structures, medical mass casualty medical evacuations and more. National Guard units from seven states and more than 50 federal and local agencies participated in the exercise.
“The last place you want to meet someone you’re working with is at a real-world event,” said 1st Lt. James Hatch, training officer for the CERFP. “Vigilant Guard brings everyone together and develops the relationships needed to see the best working practices from other agencies and other states.”
The Kentucky CERFP, like many other military units, has had a lot of turnover in personnel in recent years which leads to inexperience in such a large scale event for the Soldiers and Airmen. The collaboration is vital for success on the small team level. Sgt. Matthew Kidd with the Search and Rescue Team said learning the tricks of the trade could potentially save lives.
“The most impactful thing about the CERFP is that we are Soldiers trained to save,” he said. “With rescue, there’s only one wrong way to do it, and that’s the dangerous way. But there are a thousand right ways to do it and that’s what we are learning here from other teams that do the same job.”
Leadership from all sides agreed the exercise was successful and very relevant training for the National Guard and emergency partners. Teams from the region will take back lessons learned to improve their own mission as well as that of future collaborations. Success in such a massive event led to feelings of job satisfaction and confidence among the teams.
“As long as you have a lot of communication and teamwork, we can accomplish any mission, even something this overwhelming,” said Hatfield. “That’s what we do as Kentucky Guardsmen and the Kentucky pride is out there and it shows. Wherever we go people say that Kentucky crew is doing all the right things.”