PODGORICA, Montenegro –
This tiny Balkan nation of about 620,000 people hosted the annual NATO European-Atlantic Disaster Coordination Center Consequence Management Field Exercise, in a big way.
"CRNA GORA 2016” included 33 U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers and one civilian from the 7th Mission Support Command, with a total of 680 participants from 32 countries, during the four-day training event, Oct. 31 – Nov. 3, 2016.
The 7th MSC’s Medical Support Unit-Europe, the 773rd Civil Support Team, 361st Civil Affairs Brigade, 209th and 2500th Digital Liaison Detachments and the 7th MSC Headquarters and Headquarters Company conducted foreign consequence management, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear identification and emergency medical operations in response to a simulated flooding event at sites in and around the capital city of Podgorica.
The exercise, “is designed to bring together many, many nations to practice civil emergency type activities,” said Dr. John Manza, NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Operations.
There were eight simulated disaster response locations, including the Bogami bridge over the river Zeta and the Lazine community’s former schoolhouse, which are both north of the capital, and the Plavnica Eco-Resort and Lake Skadar, which are south of the city.
According to Manza, the disaster response sites were chosen to test the various teams on search and rescue, CBRN response and water rescue.
“It’s an opportunity for different countries to come together and participate in a Consequence Management Field Exercise,” said U.S. Army Col. Tyra Harding, 7th MSC exercise officer in charge. “The exercise for us is mostly concentrated on Montenegro and the concern they have in reference to flooding.”
Flooding was chosen as a real world training scenario because Montenegro has had to react to an uptick of extreme weather, torrential rain and increased flooding in the Balkans region over the past several years.
This region, is very mountainous and it’s prone to flooding, Manza said.
“So, for Montenegro, in particular, this is a very apt scenario,” he added.
Day 1 — Opening ceremony, classroom and hands on training
On the first day, several planning meetings were held by the EADRCC exercise staff and assessors as well as the various teams conducting classroom and hands on familiarization training at base camp on the outskirts of Podgorica.
The exercise has a CBRN identification element and medical support training as well, Harding said.
“The Medical Support Unit-Europe is here coordinating with other countries and seeing how we can integrate and supplement and work together to provide medical support in the case of a natural disaster, if a country’s overwhelmed with some form of catastrophic event and how we can integrate and cooperate,” said U.S. Army Capt. Allison Boss, a nurse that specializes in behavioral health and a member of the MSU-E.
“So today during training we sat down with the teams from Romania and the former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia to see what their capabilities are, what our capabilities are and how we can merge those to provide the best support to Montenegro during this exercise,” she added.
In addition, the opening ceremony was held during the first day.
The event was held in front of a massive formation with all the participating teams displaying their national flags as they listened to welcoming remarks.
After the opening ceremony, Deputy Prime Minister of Montenegro Dusko Markovic walked around the base of operations to visit one-on-one with the teams and thank them for their participation.
“This is what it’s all about,” Manza said after the ceremony. “It’s about building capacity amongst the partners, the allies to get them used to working with each other, to gain confidence in each other and their capabilities and to bring the whole NATO team more closely together.”
Day 2 — Afternoon events turn into dusk, then night operations
The second day of “CRNA GORA 2016” kicked off in the afternoon, as multiple disaster sites called for assistance in response to the flooding scenario injects from the EADRCC exercise staff.
The Rogami bridge site, next to the river Zeta, simulated an ambulance crash with the vehicle tilted on its side along the steep river bank.
The Montenegro Onsite Commander Darko Zizzic, a Montenegro rescue 3 level commander, who normally works as a fireman and rescuer and car accident instructor, called for medical responders, search and rescue teams, underwater divers, a boat rescue team and a suspected hazardous material CBRN identification unit.
The 7th MSC sent three MSU-E Soldiers to assist the search and rescue team from Azerbaijan and the Israeli water rescue teams.
Around the same time, the 773rd CST was requested by a different Montenegro onsite commander to go to the former schoolhouse in Lazine to check on a suspected chemical factory or ‘meth lab,’ with the Armenian CBRN team.
“The communication between us and them was good,” U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Yulolanda Carey, survey team chief, 773rd CST, said. “We could clearly understand each other. You get to incorporate some of what they know with what we know. It’s good team building.”
The combined Armenian and U.S. teams conducted perimeter monitoring and site characterization at the dilapidated schoolhouse.
“It was interesting to see their [Armenian CBRN team] process as compared to ours,” U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Patrick McNeely, survey team member, 773rd CST, said. “We did perimeter monitoring and site characterization by splitting into two teams.”
Meanwhile, back at the Rogami Bridge, several kilometers down the road, the 7th MSC medics were part of a combined meeting of the Israel, Azerbaijan and U.S. teams to decide their strategy to save and treat the injured.
“When the mission was clear, we divided the team for missions,” said Yosef Dekalo, commander of the Israel fire department search and rescue team. “We were very disciplined in accomplishing the mission.”
As the sun was setting and the temperature dropped, the Montenegro onsite commander, Darko Zizzic, a Montenegro rescue 3 level commander, who normally works as a fireman and rescuer and car accident instructor, informed the teams that the bridge was unusable for the training scenario due to the floods washing it out and there was possible unexploded ordnance, which had been exposed by the flooding as well and barrels with suspected CBRN materials that had beached after drifting down the river according to the flood scenario script.
Across the river, injured role players, played by local high school students, were strewn about the vehicle accident and flooding site. Each had realistic-looking injuries through the use of moulage makeup techniques.
The students took their roles very seriously, this included screaming in pain and yelling for help across the river while the teams worked together to formulate a safe rescue plan, which ramped up the pressure. Adapting to the onsite commander’s instructions and guidance, a final search and rescue and recovery plan was formulated by the combined team leaders.
“Car accidents, we’re used to since we have a lot of tourists.” Zizzic said. “I believe that the job was quickly done.”
The 7th MSC medics crossed the Zeta river using an Israeli water rescue team Zodiac boat.
Once on the opposite side of the river, the U.S. MSU-E medical team partnered with the Azerbaijan SAR members to traverse a very steep river embankment jutted with sharp rocks, narrow paths, the overturned ambulance and sharp 25-foot drop-offs, all in the dark, as the sun had already set.
The MSU-E team was onsite to triage simulated injuries — including a broken leg on the perilous cliffs — while also working with the Azerbaijan SAR team to find a way to evacuate the injured patients down the embankment to the edge of the river.
“We work good with the U.S. medical Soldiers,” said Abbasov Ibrahim, an Azerbaijan Army search and rescue worker, at the end of the long afternoon and late-evening combined training with the three countries. “We shared our equipment and they stared their equipment with us during the search and rescue mission. I enjoyed working with them as a team. I learned some things from them.”
Dekalo said the U.S. and Israel have the same multi-casualty incident protocols.
“We have same protocols with the American medical team,” Dekalo said. “The main tactic was to move the boats to move the most urgent wounded. We also bring the equipment to bring the injured with ropes and bring them down. It was very good joint effort to accomplish the medical mission.
“The most important thing is we had a combined rescue so you have to do the things together,” he added.
Once patients reached the shore, they were then transported by the Israeli SAR divers via Zodiac boats to the triage and assessment area, back on the opposite shore, for further treatment and then transport by waiting ambulances to a local hospital.
Zizzic said afterward, “Floods happen often here, that is why it is crucial training.”
Day 3-CBRN day ops
The next day, the 773rd CST team with the Armenian and Spanish UME teams were called back out to conduct a CBRN site survey at the Lazine site, while a different three-Soldier MSU-E team went back to the Rogami Bridge Zeta river site to conduct medical evaluations.
At Lazine, the 773rd CST partnered with the Armenian CBRN team for the site survey and the Spanish Emergency Military Unit members did the decontamination for both teams after they exited the former schoolhouse and suspected chemical factory or meth lab.
The Montenegro onsite commander held several combined open-air meetings with all three teams to give the requirements for the parameters of their plans to enter the dilapidated former schoolhouse that most recently had sheep living inside.
In addition, the EADRCC and Defense Threat Reduction Agency had on site assessors to monitor the teams and give them feedback post mission.
“It was second time working with a U.S. CBRN team,” Senior 1st Lt. Tigran Gevorgyan, Ministry of Emergency Situation of Republic of Armenia, CBRN Division, said.
Gevorgyan had trained with the U.S. Army’s Kansas National Guard CST in September.
“It was very nice to work with the U.S. Army team,” Gevorgyan said. “The U.S. team members are very qualified. We understand each other. It is very easy for us to cooperate with U.S. team compared to other teams. We all speak English and a lot of CBRN information is written in English.”
The 773rd CST’s Analytical Laboratory System truck was onsite and their chain of custody procedure was also tested.
Gevorgyan said he enjoyed working with the U.S. because both units have similar working styles.
The Armenian team brought the suspected chemical sample they had collected in the schoolhouse to the 773rd CST.
The sample collected by the Armenian team was checked by U.S. Army Capt. Latoya Toler and U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jarrod Davis in the ALS vehicle. They used a flow chart of steps to analyze and identify the suspected chemical compound.
“They were very deliberate during our joint survey team assessment of the site,” Gevorgyan said. “I like the information collecting process.”
Day 4-Demonstration day, closing ceremony; welcome to NATO
The final day was held at the Plavnica Eco-Resort about 10 kilometers south of Podgorica.
There were a number of events, including: static displays; demonstration of CBRN capabilities; a water rescue by the Spanish UME using a rescue dog; a separate rescue of simulated farm animals including a giant photo of a horse and sheep; the closing ceremony; a press conference with leaders from NATO and Montenegro; and a reception afterwards.
“I came this morning to see the final day of this important exercise that is looking mostly at issues to do with water rescue,” said NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller, during her post ceremony press conference, “and I was indeed able to see how the seventeen teams from all across the region, and from as far away as the United States, have been working together to simulate rescuing victims of floods. Rescuing people who are trapped in houses. Even rescuing farm animals.
“And I think it is so important to show that NATO is not just about cooperative defense; it is also involved in dealing with natural disasters, helping countries to address terrible situations that arise,” Gottemoeller added.
The President of Montenegro Filip Vujanovic accompanied Gottemoeller during their visit to the static display areas and observation of the demonstrations of CBRN and search and water rescues.
They both gave remarks to the formation of 17 countries’ consequence management teams during the closing ceremony.
Gottemoeller said that NATO will work together with countries such as Montenegro to be able to help with these natural disasters.
Montenegro is currently in the NATO accession process and is expected to become an official member in the spring of 2017, according to Gottemoeller.
“It’s my very first trip as the new Deputy Secretary General of NATO,” Gottemoeller said. “And it’s my very first opportunity to be in Montenegro as well. I have learned a lot, and I thank Montenegro for the terrific work that your people did, your teams did, to organize this important exercise.”