April 28, 2017 –
The U.S. Army Reserve’s Guardian Response 2017 is a multi-component training exercise designed to validate more than 4,100 service members in Defense Support of Civil Authorities in the event of a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear catastrophe.
This year's exercise simulated an improvised nuclear device explosion with a source region electromagnetic pulse out to more than four miles. The 84th Training Command hosted this exercise and the 78th Training Division, headquartered in Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, conducted the training operations.
Army Reserve Col. Mark Bartholf, chief of the Operations Group for the 78th Training Division, said the focus of Guardian Response was to make sure the necessary scenarios are accurately depicted for the units.
"We make sure they have their correct operational environment so they can perform their mission," Bartholf said. "At the same time, we also assess their ability to perform that mission through our Observer, Coach/Trainers.
"We have to make sure that it looks, smells, tastes, feels as the Soldiers would see as they hit the ground in this sort of a disaster. So bringing civilian role players is very important to us to make sure we can replicate that," he continued.
Debbie Cox, a role player team leader from Butlerville, Indiana, has been role playing for 10 years. Cox said she loves being around the military and being involved in the training.
"I think what we do here is awesome, training these kids," she said. "The role players are given a scene to play out and it helps train the military medical, chemical, Red Cross type work, and displaced citizens. Watching the role players act is the best. Some of them really get into it."
Matthew Coy, a Columbus, Indiana, resident who plays a special character named Princess Sparkles, said he participates every year and enjoys being able to lift the spirits of the troops with his exuberant character.
"I've been doing this for seven years," Coy said. "It's just too much fun. I can't do this anywhere but here. Everyone says these things are so much fun and you get to learn at the same time. I love doing it. I fell in love with it my first year. It's just too much fun not to do it.
"We're mostly covered in spray paint, we've all got wounds," he said. "We're sick, throwing up."
Coy explained that the Soldiers come in with their hazmat suits, take the victims through a decontamination process, check on their medical situation, and evacuate if necessary.
Bartholf said the purpose of using local civilians for role playing is two-fold.
"It helps the community so we can utilize the resources here within the community. We don't bus them in, we don't truck them in, they're here. They live here. They get a really good flavor of the Indiana National Guard…the capabilities of what the nation can bring to a disaster, so that's helpful. It informs them."
The second benefit is for the Soldiers.
"It's the ability of the Soldier to care for a distressed civilian in this role and to use them rather than a Soldier," he said. "That's a really important aspect of this, that mindset of the Soldiers to really be into their role and their responsibility at the time of the disaster."