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NEWS | March 27, 2018

Vigilant Guard 2018 improves skills, partnership

By Staff Sgt. Tomora Nance U.S. Army North Public Affairs

Although freezing temperatures and icy road conditions may not be an ideal training environment, training is an essential part of any contingency mission as a natural disaster can strike without warning anywhere. Being prepared is critical to reacting to real-world missions.

Several service members, Department of Defense employees and government officials braved frigid temperatures recently to conduct Vigilant Guard 2018 training in Helena, Mont.

Vigilant Guard is a National Guard and U.S. Northern Command civil support exercise, which simulates possible real-world, catastrophic disasters that can be both manmade and natural causes. The exercise is designed to help local, state and federal agencies coordinate emergency relief efforts as well as response-and-recovery management.

For this exercise, the scenario that sparked the “emergency response” was a 7.5 magnitude earthquake that occurred near the Hebgen Dam in southern Montana, which led to severe flooding and contamination in various locations within the state.

“Exercises like these are extremely helpful; it helps us to establish a good working relationship with all of the different agencies involved from the local, state and federal level,” said Col. David Chase, the region VIII Defense Coordinating Officer for U.S. Army North (Fifth Army), U.S. Northern Command. “The exercise also gives us a chance to workout our operating procedures in the event of a real-world mission.”

Chase and his unit, the Defense Coordinating Element, are collocated with Federal Emergency Management Agency’s, or FEMA, region VIII in Denver, Colo. FEMA region VIII covers Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

According to the FEMA.gov website, the U.S. is divided into 10 FEMA regions. Each region analyzes threats to its areas and conducts training to provide support to the citizens affected. FEMA trains not only to help those affected, but also to build relationships with various echelons of government, including the military. Region VIII's most common challenges are flooding, severe storms, tornadoes and winter storms.

“We look at realistic threats within the regions and work with different governmental agency levels to come up with realistic scenarios to test our systems as a whole,” Chase said. “All of the agencies work together to find a solution to the problem.”

The DCE wasn’t the only element from ARNORTH participating in the exercise.

“There’s a premise that if you get to an incident and are handing out your business cards then you are too late, so that’s why these series of Vigilant Guard exercises are so important because we are establishing those relationships and exchanging the crucial information before disaster strikes,” said Maj. Gen. John King, the commander of Task Force 51, U.S. Army North (Fifth Army). “Other elements are getting to know us and our capabilities, and we are establishing those lasting relationships. So if there is ever a disaster that relationship and trust is already in place.” 

Chase and King agreed that the exercise was a success.

“This is my first time as the Task Force 51 commander, and I think the exercise went very well. I see my role as being the conduit between the state and active duty assets, which serve in a support role to the lead agency, FEMA. Also, being a National Guard general helps bridge that gap because I understand the unique relationship that both organizations bring to the ‘table’ during a time of crisis in dealing with a disaster,” King said.

Chase added, “This has been a really great exercise it helps in not only testing our systems but also helping build and maintaining those necessary relationships needed to make our mission a success.”