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NEWS | April 17, 2018

Army Reserve Soldiers sharpen disaster response skills

By Sgt. 1st Class Brent Powell 76th Operational Response Command

When a national disaster of devastating proportions strikes, overwhelming local and state authorities and resources, those in desperate need of life-saving support look to a special group of Soldiers for assistance; heroes who constantly stand at the ready to respond, save lives and prevent suffering.

That elite group of warriors consist of more than 1000 Army Reserve Soldiers from Task Force 76, 76th Operational Response Command who have the training, skills, and capabilities to mobilize and provide much needed assistance at a moments notice. The Task Force Soldiers have recently been busy honing their crucial life-saving skills and putting their capabilities to the test here as part of exercise Vibrant Response 18.

The annual 10-day exercise is designed to test the capabilities of specific Task Force units such as chemical, medical, military police, search and rescue personnel and engineers to respond, react to and provide support to state and local authorities in the event of a National disaster requiring federal response.

“Exercise Vibrant Response is focused on readiness, which is Lt. Gen. Luckey’s (Lt. Gen. Charles D. Luckey, chief of the U.S. Army Reserve and commanding general, U.S. Army Reserve Command) and my highest priority,” said Maj. Gen. A.C. Roper, commanding general, 76th Operational Response Command and commander of Task Force 76. “This exercise is really a team sport with many different military and civilian entities coming together to provide realistic and challenging training for our chemical response forces to improve and enhance both the unit and individual Soldiers skill sets.”

The events within VR18 include a command post exercise featuring realistic venues and hundreds of civilian role-players, as well as sophisticated computer simulations to replicate a demanding disaster environment.

During the course of the exercise, the Task Force 76 Soldiers practice search and rescue missions, conduct casualty extractions and mass casualty decontamination operations during both daylight and nighttime hours. Medical teams conduct patient evaluations, treatments and evacuations, while others carry out a variety of supply missions via air and ground.

“Exercise like this are extremely valuable to the Task Force because it allows us to train in a fully immersed multi-echelon training environment,” said Army Reserve Col. Doug Mills, chief of staff, Task Force 76, 76th ORC. “We conduct this training with either actual interagency players that we coordinate and synchronize our operations with or role-players for those agencies, and that is crucial.”

VR18 tests the Task Force Soldiers every step of the way from the initial alert and mobilizing of Soldiers at their home station, to getting to the event location, going through the reception and integration processes, receiving and setting up their gear and then transitioning into operations as quickly as possible.

“The unique thing that we bring to the fight is our life-saving capabilities, so the faster we can get our life-saving forces there, the more lives we can save,” said Mills. “We use exercises like Vibrant Response to help us sharpen the edge of the knife on our standard operating procedures and get better at what we do, because literally our response time equals lives saved.”

One of the many Soldiers directly responsible for saving lives during the exercise was Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Robert Johnson, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of non-ambulatory decontamination operations, 414th Chemical Company, 457th Chemical Battalion, 415th Chemical Brigade, 76th ORC. “I think the exercise is going really well,” he said. “It is giving our young Soldiers some good hands-on experience working a decontamination line, and working with the medics. Also, having the role-players involved makes this training just about as real as possible.”

“I’m really enjoying being here and learning how everything works together during decontamination,” said Private 1st Class Mani Wallace, a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) specialist and native of Columbia, South Carolina assigned to the 414th Cm. Co., 457th Cm. Bn., 415th Cm. Brig., 76th ORC. “I feel like having this experience will better prepare me if something like this happens in the real world.”

Whether it’s performing technical search and rescue operations, providing premier medical care, running 24-hour decontamination operations, or getting critical supplies into the hands of the needy, the Soldiers of Task Force 76 have demonstrated time and time again during this exercise that they are ready and capable to respond if the Nation calls.

“I want the American people to know that these Soldiers are America’s best and brightest,” said Roper. “They are committed to a cause that is greater than themselves and they have responded admirably to an extensive list of training and readiness requirements during this exercise. The bottom line is, this homeland response mission is a no fail mission. We are responsible for responding to National disasters and saving the lives of American citizens, and nothing has a higher priority than that.”