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NEWS | May 5, 2022

‘This is what we are trained to do’: Army Reserve platoon sergeant reflects on disaster attack response training

By Spc. Brian Didlake 204th Public Affairs Detachment

Army Reserve Soldiers from Bell, California are training for what they call “the worst day in America,” simulating how the unit would respond to a nuclear attack in the United States.

The training scenario, dubbed Operation Guardian Response 22, brings the CBRN company to the St. Francis Center in fictional Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, located at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center.

A roar of Army tactical trucks and emergency response teams made the ground rumble as vehicle after vehicle lined up in front of the hospital. Soldiers donned their mock tactical gear that would protect them from radiation inside the building. Among the sea of Soldiers stands one leader who hopes this training helps further prepare his troops.

“A 10k nuke went off, so we have roughly around 100,000 personnel that have been injured, so this is kind of our piece to find out where the detonation happened,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Porchia, dismounted recon platoon sergeant, 307th CBRN Company as he talks about the simulated nuclear attack. Porchia oversees portions of the training. He explains this is his third time he and his unit have come to the training camp in Indiana.

“What we’re going to do is go in and execute our job from top to bottom, which means we’re preserving life, for one” said Porchia, “And two, our job is to make sure we remove all casualties from the area. Once we do that, we’re going to basically take our NBC [Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical] equipment and we’ll start getting into the deep dive of everything, taking photos, getting videos, receiving evidence, taking samples, anything we may need to send to the FBI or any type of local authorities.”

Multiple iterations of teams conducted search and rescue missions inside the center.
The sound of radio chatter could be heard as teams went in and found victims one-by-one throughout the evening and into the night hours.

Porchia can be seen going from station to station as teams bring victims out of the building and into a decontamination area. He says this form of training, with a mixture of mannequins and real civilians playing as victims, is helpful for lower enlisted to understand the importance of what they are doing while training.

“I just returned from being deployed,” said Porchia. “We did something like these exercises overseas, so when we are going through the motions it’s trying to get the lower enlisted [soldiers] that don’t usually get this type of experience to understand how vital their role is.”

Outside of being in the Army Reserve, Porchia says he hails from Houston, Texas, where he works on the Union Pacific Railroad.

While his work as a 74D, or a chemical specialist, does not translate work skills to his civilian job, the leadership skills he has garnered over the years have helped him achieve much in his life outside the Army.

“I am more here for the Soldiers and no longer for myself. I’ve kind of gotten older now so I got the salt and pepper patch hair,” said Porchia.

With the salt and pepper hair comes a level of experience balancing civilian life and the life of an Army Reserve Soldier. He says he understands more than anyone the mental strain one can feel without being near one's family as he explains he carries multiple pictures of his own family. Porchia says having the ability to overcome the strain is the divide of a civilian and a Soldier.

“As a reservist, it’s one of those things where we used to watch a commercial about ‘be all you can be’ and everything, so we have to learn how to balance our civilian life as well as our military life.”

Standing on the sideline, watching the exercise with watchful eyes, is one safety non-commissioned officer overseeing the exercise, Master Sgt. Steven Potsko, 1st Brigade 78th Division, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. He makes sure training is as safe, but as realistic as possible.

Potsko said, “The motivation is high, everyone is excited, and we want to keep that up but an injury or a mishap will halt that in an instant.”

Throughout the night Potsko says no injuries were reported, and all recommendations from trainers and safety advisers were adhered to while the CBRN company conducted training.

All good news for Porchia, as he says he is proud of how his team reacted to the different scenarios throughout the course of training.

“This is what we are trained to do,” said Porchia, “I know my troops are leaving this training tonight more prepared, and ready to serve in case we are needed. Our [job] is something that no one wants to be active due to the serious nature of our work, but people at home can know that we are ready to serve if we are ever called.”