Exercise vital to Guardsmen’s capabilities

Story by Capt. Daniel VanHorn, 2/138th Field Artillery Public Affairs

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A UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from Company B, 2nd Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment, based out of Frankfort, Ky., fills a Bambi bucket from Brush Creek Reservoir during water bucket firefighting training at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Butlerville, Ind., during Vibrant Response 13-2, Aug. 6. Vibrant Response is a major homeland emergency response exercise conducted by U.S. Northern Command and led by U.S. Army North with approximately 5,700 service members and civilians from federal and state agencies throughout the country training at Camp Atterbury near Edinburgh, Ind. and Muscatatuck near Butlerville to respond to a catastrophic domestic incident. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brad Staggs, Atterbury-Muscatatuck Public Affairs)

CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. — How would state and federal agencies react if a nuclear bomb detonated in two major metropolitan areas? Similar scenarios played out across Indiana, where Soldiers from the Kentucky National Guard’s 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade conducted their annual two week training, as part of an exercise called Vibrant Response.

Exercise Vibrant Response is a major homeland emergency response exercise conducted by U.S. Northern Command. The exercise was facilitated by approximately 5,700 service members and civilians from federal and state agencies throughout the country. They trained at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center near Edinburgh, Ind. and Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Ind.,  as well as throughout Southern Indiana to respond to a catastrophic domestic incident.

Col. Michael Ferguson, Commander of the 63rd TAB, has been preparing his Brigade for this mission for the past year. He understands the importance this training is for real-life disasters his Soldiers might have to face.

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“Our goal is to respond with speed and accuracy and be at the right place and right time to save lives,” he said. “Aviation assets are crucial when it comes to casualty evacuations and disaster area assessments and they can get in and out faster than any other available asset.”

Over the last four years, the 63rd has participated in 5 large-scale scenarios similar to this one, as part of their validation requirements by their higher headquarters, U.S. Army North

The brigade currently has one of the missions as a dedicated response force to provide 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.

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Sgt. Tiffany Teegarden of the 138th Signal Co., assists Soldiers with the 1204th Aviation Support Battalion in setting up communication networks at Camp Atterbury, Ind., Aug.2, 2013. A variety of Kentucky National Guard units worked to support each other as part of Exercise Vibrant Response in Southern Indiana. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Daniel VanHorn)

According to Warrant Officer Brandon Kruchinski, a UH-60 Blackhawk pilot with B Company, 2-147th Assault Company, the exercise provided valuable opportunities to hone their skills in a variety of tasks.

“It’s been good experience working hand in hand with various agencies,” said Kruchinski. “We can use this training to become better at responding to a disaster. The real-world training is valuable because it allows us to cross-train with other agencies.”

Pilots were not the only Soldiers benefiting from the scale of the exercise.

The 351st Aviation Support Company, out of Frankfort, Ky., consists of numerous mobile maintenance facilities that can be packed and shipped to any location. Each container weighs about 15,000 pounds and has every tool needed to conduct repairs on downed or deadlines aviation assets. The systems are designed to be transported on the highway within hours of notification.

According to 1st Sgt. Timothy Porter, the 351st is comprised of more than 70 Soldiers who usually learn about helicopter maintenance by reading equipment and maintenance manuals. With the exercise underway, they have been able to work on Indiana’s dead-lined UH-60 helicopters.

“Conducting maintenance on the Indiana National Guard aviation assets allows our Soldiers to become validated on actual helicopters while gaining experience with transporting our mobile shop systems,” said Porter.

Vibrant Response has provided a wide variety of training experiences to Soldiers of the Kentucky National Guard.  Often the exercise utilizes units from across the country and other assets in order to accomplish their training. This year, the 63rd deployed with its subordinate units from within the Commonwealth. The UH-60 Blackhawk unit, Bravo Co. 2-147, the OH-58 Kiowa unit, Charlie Co. 1-376th and support units, the 1204th Aviation Support Battalion and Bravo  Co.,  351st Aviation were all on the ground throughout Southern Indiana providing real-time mission support to all the players involved in the exercise. The aviation units even partnered up with the 138th Signal Company out of Lexington, Ky., to provide actual signal support to all the deployed units which showcased a great partnership between the major support commands of the Kentucky Guard.

“This exercise will enable Kentucky Aviators to be prepared to respond with great efficiency to a variety of situations,” said Ferguson. “Our Guardsmen are one of Kentucky’s finest assets.”

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