Kentucky Guard aviation Soldiers provide "vibrant response"

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A Kentucky National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk flies a MEDEVAC mission over the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center which masqueraded as Louisville, KY during Exercise Vibrant Response 11.1.

Story and photos by Maj. Ben Singleton, 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade Public Affairs Officer

CAMP ATTERBURY, In. – What if a 10-kiloton nuclear device exploded in Louisville? No more Churchill Downs, no more Heine Brothers Coffee, no more Ear X-tacy. As The Princess Bride’s Vizzini might proclaim: “Inconceivable!” But that scenario was the very locus of the recent Vibrant Response Exercise designed to test and strengthen the Chemical Biological Radiological High-Yield Explosive Consequence Management Response Force (CCMRF). Over 3,500 military and civilian personnel from around the country converged on Central Indiana to participate in the exercise.

Col. Aaron T. Barrier inspects Chief Warrant Officer Scott McCauley in preparation for Vibrant Response 11.1.

The Kentucky National Guard’s 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade is a major player in CCMRF, providing command and control of aviation assets for Joint Task Force-Civil Support, the unit charged with heading up the Department of Defense response in the event of a major catastrophe. Past exercises have set similar scenarios in places like Nebraska and Missouri, but this was the first time the 63rd TAB would be participating in a scenario set in the Bluegrass.

“My section is responsible for providing maps, analysis and information about the area we are working in,” stated Maj. Mark Brozak, Brigade Intelligence Officer, who just happens to live near Louisville. “It creates an eerie sense of realism when the disaster is in our own backyard. We’ve driven down the streets affected and been in the buildings that have been reduced to rubble in the virtual world of the exercise.”

And if the fact that the disaster is set in our own state wasn’t enough of a coincidence, the unfortunate recent events in Japan brought the importance of the CCMRF mission into sharp focus.

Soldiers of the Kentucky National Guard's 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade head to work before the sunrise.

“The earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear calamity in Japan provided a surreal parallel to the exercise,” said M

aj. Phil Honican, who works in the Brigade Future Operations Cell. “We were watching real video footage from Japan while planning missions based on similar circumstances in the exercise. It really drove the point home how important this mission is to our nation.”

The 63rd TAB provided the command and control of aviation assets to ensure that missions requiring aviation support happened, missions like moving people and equipment in the robust CH-47 Chinooks or providing aerial surveys from a UH-72 Lakota. Transporting needed supplies like blood, water and medicine in mass quantity was facilitated in the fixed-wing C-23 Sherpa. And as always in these exercises, the critical management of Medical Evacuations, or MEDEVAC, was high priority.

Humvees staged at sunset during Vibrant Response 11.1, Camp Atterbury, Indiana.

Cries of “9-line” rang out frequently in the Tactical Operation Center (TOC), meaning that a request for a MEDEVAC was coming in. Coordinates were checked and rechecked as missions were planned. Across the road from the 63rd’s TOC the whir of helicopter blades could be heard as the MEDEVAC crew prepared to launch from the airfield. Time is the enemy for a MEDEVAC and getting to those in need as soon as possible is of the utmost importance..


Another matter of great importance in the exercise was the mission of protecting the force. Soldier safety is imperative because if the soldiers aren’t kept safe, how can they go about the task of providing relief and support to the affected populace? Each soldier wears a dosimeter to monitor radiation exposure and plans were put in place to monitor rest and work cycles to ensure effective fatigue management. Risk management is always a key concern in helping to keep Soldiers safe. In the 63rd TAB, safety is always a primary goal.

Task Force Aviation provides support during Vibrant Response 11.1.

And, there is no bigger proponent of that tenet than the 63rd’s commander, Col. Aaron T. Barrier.

“My goal is to not have to issue a single band-aid during this exercise,” Barrier emphasized. “This is inherently dangerous work and we must constantly be on our guard against accidents. I won’t consider this exercise complete until every Soldier in the brigade is home safe and sound.”

With another successful CCMRF exercise under their belts, the Soldiers of the 63rd TAB returned home safely. Mission Complete.

Blackhawks and Chinooks team up to support Task Force Aviation during Vibrant Response 11.1.

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