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Exercise practices response to attack on capital

By Tom Mani

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 16, 2005) – In a homeland defense exercise last week, West Virginia National Guard troops practiced extraction and decontamination techniques for a nerve gas attack on the National Capital Region.

Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region mustered additional logistical support to make what would be a normal quarterly training exercise for the 35th Civil Support Team and the West Virginia Emergency Response Force Package a bellwether event for developing doctrine on domestic power projection – the kind that the JFHQ-NCR might need to call on in a crisis.

“If you can’t get them here, they can’t get into the fight,” said Col. James Lowe, commander of Quantico Marine Corps Base, during the course of the extraction and decontamination exercise at Quantico’s Camp Upshur.

Upshur was the final destination for a coordinated transfer of personnel and equipment known as JRSOI, or joint reception, staging, onward movement and integration. How to plan and execute JRSOI is a major element of any JFHQ-NCR action that requires forces to be assigned to the capital region for civil support or homeland defense missions.

Hand-in-hand with that is the base support installation, or BSI, piece, meeting the sustainment needs of non-local units that are attached when the JFHQ is activated as a joint task force. Quonset facilities at the remote Camp Upshur, a former training site for officer development, filled the bill.

Bringing a response force in for consequence management in the wake of a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-energy explosive attack or other incident is considered complex.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” said Navy Cdr. Luis Molina, the JFHQNCR officer in charge of the exercise. “Planning has been going on ever since the Inauguration, when we realized we needed a standing operational order and doctrine on how to bring in outside forces.”

The reception, staging and deployment of troops is one thing overseas, where it is well understood, and another thing in the United States, where the novelty drew observers from U.S. Northern Command, JFHQ-NCR’s higher headquarters, and the National Guard Bureau, whose commander visited the Soldiers from West Virginia at Quantico.

West Virginia’s 35th CST and the CERF-P were on alert during the Inauguration period for possible deployment to Washington, D.C., something that was not required, but which highlighted concerns of how such a move would be made normal transportation and communication links were disrupted.

Since then, the CERF-P has had significant changeover of personnel. It draws from the 13 regional Guard centers in the state, and overseas deployments of home units have been frequent. Master Sgt. Sherry Claus, a spokesperson for the unit, said the exercise was training 39 Soldiers and Airmen new to the unit and that 40 more would be getting training in September.

Still, the unit was the first in the Guard to get Active Army accreditation in all five areas of command and control, extraction, decontamination, medical, and security, an achievement that came earlier this summer, Claus said.

The 130th Airlift Wing out of Charleston, W.Va., airlifted the CBRNE units to Davison Army Airfield Aug. 9, the beginning of their three-day mission to the NCR.

Quantico, Fort Belvoir and airfield personnel were on hand to facilitate their arrival, which took place over several hours, as the C-130s deposited some 80 passengers, assorted vehicles, and eight ISU-90 shipping containers, filled with the equipment needed for the CST to provide reconnaissance and analysis of the site and for the CERF-P to extract and decontaminate the role players.

Trucks and buses from Quantico, including two “low-boy” trailers for hauling the shipping containers, took the CERF-P on to the training site, while the 35th drove off in a convoy that comprised their trucks and trailers housing their own mobile lab, command center, and decontamination line.

Another West Virginia organization, the Center for National Response, set up the scenario for the National Guard’s exercise, air dispersal of chemical agents, which was played out against a hypothesized backdrop of a wave of terrorist attacks that have “stretched response agencies thin.”

A dirty bomb at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, mustard gas at the Union Station mall, poison gas at RFK, a chlorine rail car leak, three collapsed bridges, numerous “white powder” reports – were all part of the scenario.

“This was a good first step,” Molina, the G/J4 logistics plans chief for the Military District of Washington and JFHQ-NCR, said at the conclusion of the exercise.

(Editor’s note: Tom Mani serves with JFHQNCR Public Affairs).

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