Aviation Soldiers make ready for disaster

DWA

63rd TAB Soldiers offload equipment at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center.

Story and photos by Maj. Ben Singleton, 63rd TAB Public Affairs Officer

Frankfort, Ky. (Dec. 9, 2010) – “Our job is to stand ready to be on the ground, ready to go within 24-hours and today, we’re going to test that capability,” said Col. Aaron T. Barrier, commander 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade.

“We’re about to begin an Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise (EDRE) which will help us determine exactly how ready we are.”

At the Boone National Guard Center those words turned the Maj. Gen. Billy G. Wellman Armory into a beehive of activity.  The 63rd TAB Soldiers listened intently as Maj. Phil Robinson, brigade assistant planning and operations officer, read  the exercise scenario that would launch the group into a 3-day exercise of packing-up gear, convoying to Western Kentucky, and setting up an operations center in high-tech tents, all within a 24-hour period.

Spc. Aaron Halvorson uses a forklift to load equipment.

“These exercises are designed to help us solve any problems that pop up, said Sgt. Maj. Kevin Wilkins, planning and operations sergeant major.  “It’s much better to find and fix any snags during an exercise than in a real event.  The nature of any event that causes us to mobilize will necessitate us bringing our ‘A’ game.”

The 63rd TAB serves as Task Force Aviation, part of the Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear High-Yield Explosive, Consequence Management Response Force , under Joint Task Force-Civil Support headquartered at FT. Monroe, Va.  The mission of JTF-CS is to anticipate, plan and integrate U.S. Northern Command CBRNE consequence management operations, and when directed, establish command and control of Department of Defense forces in response to a CBRNE incident to assist local authorities in saving lives, preventing further injury and providing temporary critical support.

63rd TAB Soldiers load equipment for a Deployment Readiness Exercise.

As with any military unit, one must train to accomplish the mission.  That training for the 63rd TAB includes the EDRE.  And so the Soldiers of the 63rd began executing carefully made load plans, prepping vehicles, running checklists and doing everything that needed to be done in order to get the unit ready to head to Western Kentucky, where they would set up an operations center on the airfield at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center.  The stopwatch was running as the vehicles pulled into line and began the trek westward.

Arriving without incident, the unit began offloading and setting up their equipment, including highly specialized tents.

“Each time we set up these tents, we get better and faster,” Maj. Mark Brozak, brigade intelligence officer, said while fitting 2 pieces of interlocking flooring together.  “It’s important to get set up as quickly as possible because we are really trying to get to the next step–getting aircraft in the air to support the mission.”

“Everyone pitches in,” he said. “Everyone.”

The ability to arrive on site and be ready to go quickly and competently is our bread and butter,” said Maj. Phil Honican, brigade fire support officer.  “We can pack up, move out, and set up with the best of ‘em.  Let’s roll!”

Capt. Will Blevins supervises the raising of the tent system used by the 63rd TAB.

The clock continued to tick as the Soldiers put canvas to beam, erecting a multi-tent complex complete with flooring which has special channels that hide the spider web of network cables and electric wiring running throughout the structure. This is the nerve center for Task Force Aviation and contains everything from sophisticated video projectors and huge flat screen monitors to old-fashioned butcher pads and markers.  And, of course, there is the inevitable coffee pot.  Everything these soldiers will need to operate is snapped into place like a complicated set of Legos.

Finally, the last container is pulled from the last trailer.  The last network cable is run.  The computers hummed to life as fluorescent lights flickered overhead inside the tents.  Soldiers look around expectantly as Maj. Brian Abney, brigade planning and operations Officer, surveys the scene.

“I think that’s got it!” Abney said. “We’re open for business!”

Sgt. Josh Parker, Sgt. Scott Paige and Sgt. Brandon Mullins install the light system inside the operations tent.

Robinson glances down at the stopwatch as he clicks it.  “Mission success!  We beat our time hack!”

Tired but elated Soldiers stop what they are doing and glance around.  Grins break out on weary faces.

“Time to take it all down again,” someone yells.  A few of the grins disappear but most persist as the Soldiers begin the process of taking everything down and packing it away again.

Some might say that this kind of exercise seems a little too much like the Greek myth of Sisyphus, tasked with rolling the boulder up the hill in Hades only to have it roll down again.  But the Soldiers of the 63rd TAB know how important the CCMRF mission is to the nation and they are determined to be the best at what they do…even if that means spur of the moment emergency drills like this one.

“This is not a nine-to-five job where we just check in to the office, work at our desk, and check out again,” Barrier said.  “We train to be there when our fellow citizens need us and an exercise like this one makes sure we’re ready to answer that call.”

To see more photos of this and other Kentucky National Guard operations visit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/kyngpao/.

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