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Planners evaluate large Vibrant Response exercise

August 15, 2012

By Staff Sgt. Corey Baltos, Army North PAO

MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. (Army News Service, Aug. 15, 2012) -- More than 9,000 Soldiers and civilians from numerous local, state and federal agencies participated in Vibrant Response 13, along with their equipment -- mobile labs, helicopters, heavy equipment and so on -- spread out over 5,000 square miles of southern Indiana and northern Kentucky.

The major incident exercise was fast-paced and had many moving parts, making the preparations and planning all the more daunting, said leaders of U.S. Army North who helped coordinate more than 200 training events at 50 venues, July 26 to Aug. 13.

"We coordinate the venues independently and through the Indiana National Guard," said Mike Rozsypal, an exercise planner for Army North. "The challenge is finding the venues to conduct a disaster-relief exercise and make it realistic."

To conduct an exercise of this nature, Army North required complex structures, such as buildings and vehicles which could be destroyed, burned and flooded to replicate real-world natural and man-made disasters. The exercise also required role players to act as the displaced citizens to replicate disaster-relief scenarios.

The people of Indiana have been kind enough to allow Army North, and the thousands of service members and civilians, to descend on the area each year to conduct the Vibrant Response exercises, Rozsypal said.

"Farmers have loaned us their land. Schools have loaned us their buildings. And, Indiana University has given us use of spare agricultural study farms so we could conduct this exercise," he said.

Local people got involved too. Many of the 600 role players participating in VR13 call the local area home.

"The role players give the units on the ground the realism of interacting with real humans," said Staff Sgt. William Velez, an Army North displaced civilian controller. "Unlike a mannequin, these people can talk back, interact and give the Soldiers a hard time."

Once the planning is completed and the venues established, it is then up to the executors of Army North to actually run the exercise itself. These are the more than 850 service members, Department of Defense civilians and contractors in Indiana who conduct the vital support required. They are responsible for every facet of the operation, from observing and coordinating the training and logistics to providing other services, such as chaplain support and facilitating media coverage.

As units progress through the various exercises, they are coached, trained, mentored and evaluated by observer-controllers, which include both military and civilian members.

"Most of us are retired military," said Rozsypal, a retired Army colonel, "so we had a lot of experience, while in uniform, running multi-facet exercises. It was fairly easy to transfer our experience running force-on-force exercises to a disaster-response exercise."

The majority of the units training during VR13 are technical support force units that conduct reconnaissance, search and rescue or medical missions. Army North's Civil Support Training Activity trains and evaluates the forces designed to respond to these types of incidents in the U.S. Northern Command area of responsibility.

"Basically we oversee and assess the technical support units that are conducting their mission and make sure they are doing it properly," said Bill Sherman, the director of Army North's CSTA.

But the work is never done. Leaders are evaluating lessons learned and planners are planning the next big exercise.

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