National Guard team helps when a crisis strikes
Training scenarios take place at Muscatatuck

Spc. Robert G. Cooper III
Indiana National Guard

Screaming victims, multiple casualties and the fallout from a nuclear detonation inundate the once peaceful atmosphere of a local shopping mall. Victims flee from a department store, deafened by the explosion and unable to hear police instructions. A few miles away, the Indiana National Guard’s 53rd Civil Support Team snaps into action.

Although the explosion was only a training scenario, it didn’t keep the 53rd team from treating the catastrophe like a real event. Fake blood, role-playing civilians and mock dirty bombs failed to prevent the team from completing its first mission of the 11-day Operation Vigilant Guard training exercise.
The joint exercise involves more than 2,000 National Guard members from Indiana and several other states, along with first responders including the Department of Homeland Security and other state and federal agencies. Vigilant Guard is testing the 53rd’s full range of capabilities.

Staged at the Indiana National Guard’s Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, located on U.S. 50 in Jennings County, one of the nation’s premier National Guard training sites, the exercise is centered on a 10-kiloton nuclear detonation in central Indiana.

One scenario within the exercise involves an explosion at the shopping mall where the 53rd assisted law enforcement agencies.

“Our primary responsibility is to assist local and state emergency personnel,” said Maj. Paul Navas, the team’s commander. “When (first responders) don’t have the capabilities, that’s where we come in. This mission was a joint effort between SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) and EOD (Explosive Ordinance) assets. While SWAT neutralized any possible threats, EOD checked for explosives. We made sure that the surrounding atmosphere was safe. They wanted CST to monitor the operation, which was a success.”

The training scenario also displayed the affiliation between the Indiana National Guard and other state agencies.

“This exercise allows us to tie in with other forces, which has been excellent,” said Sgt. Corey Gavin, administrative noncommissioned officer for the 53rd. “It’s great, because one, it builds good relationships, and two, it gives us an idea of their capabilities and them of ours.”

Designed to counter major emergencies and incidents involving weapons of mass destruction, the 53rd is comprised of 22 full-time Army and Air National Guard members, each an expert in emergency response and recovery as well as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents. Each CST contains six sections: command, operations, communications, administration/logistics, medical and survey. The team evaluates hazards and offers expert advice and support to first responders.

“We’re the first military in during an emergency situation,” Gavin said. “Everything we do-when we train or when we react-we adapt to a new scenario.”

Each member receives more than 600 hours of training with agencies including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Energy, Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We train a lot because it builds cohesion,” Gavin said. “We’re a pretty close family, and for good reason. After going into a hot zone, my teammates know that I’m not going to miss a beat and that I’m doing my best to ensure their safety.”

He said the exercise is also helping the 53rd and the Indiana National Guard to continue to develop a positive rapport with other agencies.

“We’ve already built a good relationship with the civil authorities, and we will continue to do so throughout the course of this exercise,” he said. “We’ll also have a really good time in the process.”

Sgt. Aaron Tinsley with the 53rd Civil Support Team (CST) takes a radiation reading at the site of a simulated nuclear explosion during Operation Vigilant Guard at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center May 10, 2007. The site, offering a simulated urban environment to allow for realistic training, is hosting the Indiana National Guard and other state and local agencies throughout the exercise. Among the first day’s scenarios is a nuclear detonation, evacuation of fallout sites, an explosive device threat at a nearby shopping mall and mass casualty assistance. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Spc. Robert G. Cooper)