Base Hosts Hundreds as Vigilant Guard Kicks Off

  • Published
  • By Capt. Wayde Minami
  • 175th Wing Public Affairs
Warfield Air National Guard Base in Middle River, Md., underwent a sudden transformation this week as it became home to 300 National Guard troops from West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

It's all part of Exercise Vigilant Guard, an annual disaster response exercise that tests the National Guard's ability support civil authorities responding to large-scale natural and man-made disasters, from terrorist attack to industrial accidents to hurricanes.

According to Lt. Col. Steven Benden, deputy commander of the 175th Mission Support Group, the unit that is overseeing the logistical support effort, the base's role in the exercise is to serve as the Joint Reception, Staging, Onward Movement, and Integration area, more commonly referred to JRSOI. As the name implies, JRSOI involves receiving arriving troops, in-processing them, and preparing them to move forward to carry out their missions.

For an installation that normally has no on-base residents, this has meant building up the facilities to house, feed and care for hundreds of people almost overnight.

In order to house the visiting troops, a "tent city" of 32 20-foot by 32-foot tents were erected in what had previously been a dirt parking lot. Three semi trailers containing shower facilities were brought in and parked nearby. In addition, the base's dining facility, which normally only provides meals twice a month, during the drill weekends, was pressed into 24-hour service.

It took approximately 65 people two days to build the Logistics Support Area that would house the troops according to 1st Lt. Dejaun Saunders, a member of the 175th Civil Engineer Squadron. The tents are part of a Disaster Relief Beddown Set, or DRBS, a modular kit used to house emergency response personnel.

Each DRBS includes housing tents, dining tents, kitchens, showers, latrines and a laundry capability. Maryland is using two of the sets for the exercise. Similar kits were deployed to assist with relief operations in Haiti.

Behind the scenes, the base activated its Emergency Operations Center, or EOC, to serve as a "mayor's cell" overseeing the overall operation of the base support system. This is a critical operational capability that could be activated in the event of natural disaster, a major accident, terrorist attack or wartime contingency operations training. Also working behind the scenes is the JRSOI Control Element, which exercises operational control of responding National Guard forces on base and coordinates with the Maryland Joint Operations Center in Reisterstown, Md.

The scenario for this iteration of Exercise Vigilant Guard is an explosion that collapses part of a chemical production facility, causing mass casualties and trapping many people in the building. In the scenario, National Guard personnel and assets are called upon to assist civil authorities in coping with the disaster.

According to Colonel Benden, exercises of this sort enable the Guard to test its ability to coordinate and interface with civilian emergency response agencies, as well as its ability to support and integrate National Guard units from other states.

"It allows us to prepare, plan and practice our response to any type of incident that would occur in and around Maryland," Colonel Benden said. "This is an opportunity for us in Maryland to actually practice and respond and see how we measure up."

The last time Maryland played a major role in Exercise Vigilant Guard was 2007. That exercise simulated a series of terrorist attacks across the national capital area, culminating with a simulated attack near the M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.