ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Hundreds of National Guard and active-duty counterparts, Canadian military forces and civilian first responders are responding to a simulated large-scale natural disaster during the Arctic Eagle-Patriot 22 (AEP22) exercise Feb. 22-March 9.
More than 900 Air and Army National Guard personnel from 15 states are participating in the joint exercise.
AEP22 increases the National Guard’s capacity to operate in austere, extreme cold environments and enhances the ability of military and civilian partners to respond to emergency and homeland security missions across Alaska and the Arctic region.
Agencies ranging from the U.S. Marine Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF) to Canadian chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear (CBRN) elements, the 81st Civil Support Team, North Dakota National Guard, the 95th CBRN Company, U.S. Army Alaska, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and search and rescue K-9’s gathered at the Anchorage Fire Training Center for part of the mock disaster.
“Our big focus here is if there was a hospital that collapsed, what kind of casualties we have and what rescue operations are needed,” said Capt. Jacob Sommerfeld, North Dakota Army National Guard, 81st Civil Support Team. “Also, with regard to hazmat considerations for certain medical radioactive isotopes, the detection and or location of some of those hazards in a timely efficient fashion and how to handle them properly.”
Interoperability exercises build understanding across military forces, civilian first responders, and domestic and international borders.
“One person may have a different piece of equipment and another person may read it a little bit differently,” said Sommerfeld, AEP22 battle captain for the south central training venue. “We are just trying to cross-train and to capture some of the best practices from one unit to the next and to make sure that we are all communicating and supporting each other and learning from one another.”
The exercise allows the participants to test new capabilities.
“We are testing dry decontamination,” said U.S. Marine Sgt. Matthew Nalls, an assistant decontamination section leader, Company B, CBIRF. “Rather than using soap and water, we are using special vacuums and fiber tech wipes to wipe everybody down.”
Decontamination techniques using moisture in freezing weather can cause a casualty more harm. Therefore, teams tested different situations and scenarios and researched implementing this new method of dry decontamination.
During the exercise, a helicopter provided a live feed for monitoring troop movements and areas to be used to set up a new command post or a safe refugee for evacuees. A Stryker armored vehicle with CBRN detection equipment patrolled the area to mark anything deemed hazardous notionally.
“The M1135 Stryker variant has the capability to detect chemical, biological and radiological contamination and the capability to sample biological and chemical,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Christian Greg, team leader, 1st Platoon, 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 95th CBRN Company. “In a natural disaster or domestic response, we would be able to clear areas for medical evacuation, for shelter and for first responders to occupy.”
Once the area was deemed clear, search and extraction dogs combed the site to look for casualties.
All FEMA disaster dogs coming to Alaska are from the eastern United States — Florida to Massachusetts — said U.S. Army Capt. Jennifer Cates, exercise veterinarian.
“One of our goals here was to evaluate the effects of the cold on their blood, their operation and the cold weather decontamination procedures,” Cates said.
Sommerfeld said working with Canadians, Marines and active-duty military was the most important part of the exercise.
“Typically, we wouldn’t have those kinds of opportunities in the National Guard, and as part of a big exercise like this, dual-status command, bringing all of us together has really allowed for some great experiences for myself and my troops,” he said. “We have to realize that we are preparing for Alaska’s worst day. We know that the potential for an earthquake is real, and there are a lot of people who call Alaska home.”