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Homeland Security

American Forces Press Service

First Responders Conduct Vigilant Guard 17 Exercise in Georgia

By Army Spc. Jordan Trent, 124th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

CLAY NATIONAL GUARD CENTER, Marietta, Ga., April 3, 2017 – Six months after Hurricane Matthew struck the coast of the southeastern United States, the state of Georgia hosted a large-scale training exercise designed to test the response to a real-life disaster.

Approximately 9,000 military and civilian personnel participated in the Vigilant Guard 17 emergency-response exercise held March 23-31. The Georgia Department of Defense and the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency teamed to co-host Vigilant Guard 17.

U.S. Northern Command, in conjunction with the National Guard Bureau, sponsored the exercise.

"The purpose of this large-scale and comprehensive exercise is to simulate a real-world natural disaster in order to improve cooperation among local, state, and federal stakeholders in preparing for emergencies and any sort of catastrophic event," Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said.

Team Effort

More than 50 federal and local agencies joined the Georgia Department of Defense along with units from six other states for a series of real-world training scenarios during Vigilant Guard 17.

Everything the Georgia Department of Defense does is for, with, and through its interagency partners, said Brig. Gen. Tom Carden, commander of the Georgia Army National Guard.

"Looking back, I believe we work at the speed of trust," Carden said. "These exercises help us build capability, and more importantly, it helps us build trust. Trust is cultivated through relationships. When we can go out and work those relationships and build trust and build capability, the end result is a safer population."

This is the first time that the state of Georgia has ever hosted a Vigilant Guard event, Deal said. This exercise is the largest Vigilant Guard event conducted in its history. Georgia's Homeland Security Task Force has been in the event planning process since 2015.

A state of emergency was declared in six Georgia counties during Hurricane Matthew, but under the scenarios that were ran during the Vigilant Guard 17 training exercise, 19 counties were in a simulated state of emergency.

Exercise missions included collapsed building search and decontamination, search-and-rescue training, maritime response, aerial firefighting, mass-casualty medical-evacuation training, cyberattack defense and more.

"The purpose of this exercise is to simulate an event that exceeds our capacity to respond and stresses our systems to the point we have to ask for assistance outside the state," said Army Maj. Gen. Joe Jarrard, the state of Georgia's adjutant general.

"That assistance could come in the form of other Guardsman from other states, active-duty forces from around the country, as well as additional assistance from federal agencies and other states," Jarrard added.

Participants learned to coordinate effective disaster response. As a result, in the event of a catastrophe, agencies engaged from national to local levels are better prepared to plan, communicate and take action to protect the citizens of the United States.

"To know that we have the Guard standing behind us is great," said Tim Holloway, a manager for Columbia County Georgia Roads and Bridges Department. "We look forward to working together, whenever it may be."

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