MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. –
Gray smoke billowed over a pile of broken concrete slabs and twisted steel beams. The morning weather is cold, rainy and grim. The scenario is equally as grim.
Cries of pain and agony ring out from a nearby field and town of shacks made from whatever refuse can be recycled.
“Tell me what’s going on, I can’t see. Please help,” cried out one role player.
“I don’t want to die,” cried out another.
Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Indiana, a one-time asylum, is now an apocalyptic town and government training site consisting of destroyed buildings, flooded neighborhoods, wrecked cars and trains, and it hosts a series of simulated scenarios for Guardian Response. Guardian Response 2022, hosted by the Army Reserve's 78th Training Division, is an annual homeland emergency response exercise designed to sharpen the skills, boost capabilities and improve mission readiness of allocated U.S. Army units assigned to the Department of Defense’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Response Enterprise.
While the environment provides realistic training, the teams of role players who work within the exercise further enhance the training.
“It’s one thing to come across a mannequin and go through the motions (of training), it’s another to have a live person that you have to deal with,” said Robert Malik, role player manager. “They 100 percent make the training worth more.”
About 120 civilian role players from nearby towns arrived hours before the start of the scenario to receive their simulated wounds, torn clothing and details of their injuries so they will know how to act once Soldiers arrive on the scene.
Fifteen CBRN units and companies alongside military police and engineer battalions in the active-duty and reserve components of the U.S. Army reacted to the various scenes.
“This is my sixth year doing this,” said Garry Henderson of Edinburgh, Indiana. “I take vacation from my real job to do this exercise every year. I couldn’t serve in the military so this is my way of serving my country.”
Henderson isn’t the only role player to return year-after-year to provide the most realistic urban training available.
“I’ve done this for six or seven years now,” said Andrew Morrison of Columbus, Indiana. “There is a large group of us that do this every year, it’s like a second family.”
Morrison’s second family includes men and women of all ages, nationalities and religions. Many come from military families and feel they are helping serve their country by testing the skills of the Soldiers participating in the training.
“We play our part for the Soldiers to find us,” said Nichole Aldridge of Dupont, Indiana. “Our group is real close. Hopefully these Soldiers will get their training in and help save other’s lives.”
As the role players were sprawled across the shanty town, Soldiers from the 63rd Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Company from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, entered the area in full chemical gear and were soon surrounded by the players begging for help and pointing to others that were unable to move without help.
The Soldiers assessed the walking wounded and began a search of the area for additional victims. After getting an idea of the number of injured and the types of injuries they had endured, they began evacuating survivors to decontamination and medical stations where they continued to play their roles and test the skills of more Soldiers.
“I’ll be back again,” said Aldridge. “The fun keeps me coming back.”