April 26, 2017 –
Exercise, exercise, exercise, Category 4 Hurricane Arlene has just hit the eastern part of Puerto Rico, and the 1st Mission Support Command activates their Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on April 21. While the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Center assess the damage and need for federal assistance, the U.S. Army Reserve is standing by to help civil authorities during this disastrous event.
Hundreds of people are hurt and in need of emergency medical assistance during the notional event. Four units from the 1st Mission Support Command reported to the Aguadilla Airport on April 23 in support of PREMA and other local and federal agencies. From providing laundry, bath and water purification services members, Soldiers were also available to help with mortuary affairs and firefighting operations.
“This Tropical Journey Exercise is a unique and great opportunity to test our plans and capabilities for a real-world event,” said Mr. Cosme Torres, emergency management specialist for the Veteran Administration Healthcare System and lead for Tropical Journey.
“Today is April 24, Hurricane Arlene made landfall last week, and we are in the response and recovery phase of all the agencies,” he said. “We are simulating that we have the U.S. Virgin Island and the municipality of Vieques, Culebra and east coast of Puerto Rico, severely damaged, so we are doing a mass evacuation of survivors from the disaster zone.”
“We have established this incident support base to respond,” said Cosme. “If we do not practice now on how to respond, we will not be prepared for an actual event and could make costly mistakes. That is why every person that is here is a key player for the success of this exercise, whether military, local or federal agencies.”
The 597th Quartermaster Company (Laundry and Bath) arrived at the site on April 23 and began setting up their equipment for laundry and shower services. “Our mission here is to provide laundry and shower services to anyone that comes by here,” said Sgt. Johnathan Cuevas, assigned to the 597th.
“Participating in these types of exercises helps us a lot,” said Cuevas. “It helps keep us proficient. We know each other pretty well and know our strengths and weaknesses, so we can put our Soldiers where they need to be to execute the mission accurately and efficiently.”
During a real world disaster, something as simple as getting drinking water can become challenging. For the 973rd Quartermaster Company (Water Purification), it is their mission to purify and distribute drinking water.
Spc. Ricardo Lamoso, assigned to the 973rd, explained the process of water purification and the capabilities of their equipment. “We are using the 3000 Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit ROWPU, which purifies 3,000 gallons of fresh water per day or 1500 gallons of salt water per day,” said Lamoso.
“This exercise is great training for us because helps us run through the setup and put our skills into practice,” said Lamoso. “It also gives us additional knowledge so that we can be prepared to respond in case of an emergency. We can communicate with our civilian partners to make sure our mission is running the best it can and adapt to any situation.”
Cpl. David Pagan, also a water treatment specialist with the 973rd, agrees on the benefits of this exercise. “We are always ready to support,” said Pagan. “Once we are notified and get to the site, we can be operational within about two hours. Preventive medicine would first have to test our water before we begin any distribution.”
“Our mission is to make potable water for those that need water, whether civilians or military,” continued Pagan. “If they need the Army to help, we will be there.”
As survivors were guided towards medical treatment tents based on their triage needs, Soldiers from the 266th Ordinance Company were available to help with the transporting and triage of patients.
“This training helps us work as part of a team with other units and local or federal agencies,” said Sgt. Jose Luis Vega, a firefighter assigned to the 266th. “Right now we training by assisting other organizations with the triage of patients as they are being brought out of the aircraft. They are carrying with the liters with patients and taking them to the medical tents, and this is training that we don’t get a chance to do often.
“We are building partnerships with other agencies and continuing to build our relationship with the community,” he said.
“This training helps us to get a feel for what it would be like during a real disaster,” said. Pfc. Nyheisha Velez, a firefighter assigned to the 266th. “Some people may think they know how to handle a situation but without training, they could freeze during an actual event.”
During the exercise, a fire broke out, and the 266th had to respond and extinguish it. As a team, the crew of four successfully set up and extinguished the fire with zero incidents.
One of the most significant operations during a natural or man-made disaster consists of taking care of the deceased. Many of the injured succumbed to their injuries and it was up to the 311th Quartermaster Company (Mortuary Affairs) to process the remains in a respectful and dignified manner.
“In the event of a real emergency, the Soldiers would be very effective at providing this skill set,” said Capt. Andre Purnell, commander of the 311th. “This exercise helps us learn the processes that we need when we are working in Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) response. The process in which we handle civilian remains is different than how we handle military remains.”
“This exercise is helping us gain the experience and skills that we need to be prepared to respond during war time or peace time,” said Spc. Elfren Varga, mortuary affairs specialist. “I’m learning from the other agencies during this exercise because I have not done anything like this before.”
Tropical Journey (TJ) is a full-scale VA driven “All Hazard Preparedness Response” exercise that began in 2005 and occurs every three years. The TJ17 scenario enables participants to assess objectives and core capabilities. This full-scale exercise provides a platform for 1st Mission Support Command unit leadership to evaluate METL collective training tasks within a DSCA operational environment.