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NEWS | May 9, 2017

TF-76 prepares to save lives and mitigate the suffering

By May 7, 2017 U.S. Army Reserve Command

When disaster strikes and chaos sets in, people can forget their cities' emergency evacuation plans and highways get stacked with traffic. People get hurt and communication gets cut off.

Vibrant Response 17 is an annual command post exercise here that simulates the detonation of a nuclear bomb in a major city within the United States. This year it was integrated with Guardian Response 17 at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Indiana.

The exercises enable emergency response organizations, both civilian and military, to integrate and provide relief during a catastrophic disaster.

The simulated detonation occurred May 2, 2017. Following the established national response framework, the state first responders and National Guard forces answered the first calls for help.

As the situation escalated and resources were exhausted, the state requested federal support. Per the federal response framework, the first federal agencies to respond are civilian. Support from the Department of Defense is then requested as necessary. Task Force 76 arrived at the scene on May 6, 2017.

Once at the scene, TF-76 provides support to the incident commander, state and Federal Emergency Management Agency in several areas. These include: urban search and rescue, extractions, and mass casualty decontamination. They also have transportation assets that allow them to do patient evacuation and resupply both by ground and air. They have the ability to produce water and have operational, medical and logistical forces. The task force is made up of people assigned to the 76th Operational Readiness Command, a U.S. Army Reserve unit out of Salt Lake City.

Brig. Gen. James Blakenhorn, the deputy commanding general for TF-76, said the task force gains two main things out of this training event. First, it exercises the higher staffs to ensure they have processes, procedures, interfaces and communications established and ready to execute. Secondly, it gives the folks in the field at GR17 confidence in their abilities to perform the mission. It also provides units with the confidence in their equipment, procedures and leadership to become more proficient.

During a catastrophic event such as VR17, FEMA is the primary agency requesting support from TF-76 and another task force, TF-46, the Michigan National Guard’s 46th Military Police Command.

According to Master Sgt. Trevor Smith, the future operations noncommissioned officer in charge for TF-76, FEMA can send down specific mission requests, or MAs, for support such as supplies, transportation and decontamination said. Following that initial request, the headquarters for TF-76 or TF-46 have to develop plans of action. They do this through battle rhythm briefings that then provide the information to create updated fragmentary orders. Once each task force knows their mission, they disseminate orders down to the commanders on the ground.

These and other processes require time and practice to perfect. Training together prepares everyone for when it’s time to react to a real-world scenario, where the mission is to save lives and mitigate the suffering of the people of the United States.

“We always plan this exercise as if the worst had happened, however, what's great about our mission is that it doesn't have to be a nuclear detonation for us to get involved,” said Blakenhorn. “The catastrophe could be something like a hurricane or a wild fire. There's a number of natural disasters that can cause a great deal of pain and suffering where federal forces may be required.

“Due to the experience the Soldiers get here at this level, they also know they can perform if they were called up for some of these other missions as well,” added Blakenhorn. “We hope that we never have to use these assets, but if we do, we want the Soldiers to know, through these type of exercises, that they are fully capable of performing the mission at call.”