FORT CARSON, Colo. –
On an annual basis, U.S. Northern Command hosts an exercise known as Vibrant Response, a complex training event that enables specialized units from across the country to train on their disaster response capabilities in support of the lead organization, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). For the first time this year, an Army Reserve unit, the 377th Theater Sustainment Command (TSC) headlined the logistics requirements for the exercise as part of its new and increasing role as the lead sustainment element for U.S. Army North.
“We’re the sustainers for this mission, where we are overseeing a wide array of logistical requirements on behalf of FEMA,” explained Maj. Wesley Todd, a member of the 377th TSC’s forward element. “We’ve had to do a lot of analysis throughout the exercise, but everyone’s eager to learn and it’s a really dynamic environment.”
The 377th TSC provides overall command and control to a bevy of logistical units spread across the country in support of the exercise, which challenges units to respond as they would in real-life to major disasters ranging from a natural disaster to a domestic nuclear attack. The commands involved are forced to contend with unexpected limitations on their operations like loss of power, loss of communication, or mass casualty events.
Vibrant Response is conducted as part of U.S. Army North’s ongoing mission to train the nation’s military Chemical Biological Radioactive Nuclear (CBRN) response capability. The exercise helps assure the nation’s readiness by ensuring that units, regardless of service, component or state, are interoperable and are ready to operate as national CBRN responders.
In order to replicate this real-world environment, there are dozens of notional representatives who simulate the major entities involved in a homeland disaster response. During the event trainers simulate the actions of State representatives, local leaders and FEMA directors, injecting difficult scenarios and operational limitations on the responding forces.
For Todd, this is not unfamiliar territory. As an Army Reserve Soldier who served as a FEMA Branch Director prior to his recent mobilization with the 377th TSC, he has responded in a leadership role for FEMA across dozens of disasters, assisting government authorities in obtaining grants to recover damage to infrastructure. This time, though, he saw the response from a different point of view.
“It was fascinating to see it from the Department of Defense side,” Todd described. “I’m used to making the connections, determining the extent of the damage, making some calls and all of a sudden the help gets there. Now I know what goes into all of that, and what muscle movements are involved for the troops to make that happen.”
That muscle movement involves over 1,250 personnel who train in coordinating aviation, medical, engineering, logistics, and other life-saving tasks across multiple service branches. The 377th TSC supervised the movement of these personnel within the theater of operation along with the deployment and accountability of their equipment.
In an operation this complex, the assistance provided by the Reserve Soldiers of the 377th TSC came as critical support to the exercise controllers at U.S. Army North.
“The 377th TSC was absolutely essential to us,” emphasized Lt. Col. Jamaal Mack, Sustainment Readiness Chief for U.S. Army North and one of the exercise’s leaders. “They made all the coordination with state representatives and transportation nodes that we don’t normally come into contact with in our role.”
Mack explained further the extensive preparatory legwork that the 377th TSC executed prior to the event, including being the first troops on the ground to establish the Joint Operating Area and make coordination for the arrival of the hundreds of troops and large quantities of equipment that are necessary for the exercise. These forward elements were responsible for the accurate tracking and reception of units from across the country, along with any movements that were made within the theater of operations as a component of the event.
The Vibrant Response event began on April 25, 2022 and will continue through May 13, 2022 as the units on ground are continuously tested on their ability to respond to real-world disaster events. Mack expects continued success in sustaining the mission, in large part due to the contributions of the Army Reserve logisticians of the 377th TSC.
“It just wouldn’t have happened with out them,” he concluded. “In their role as the theater sustainers, they really control everything…and they’re our action arm for everything that we do.”