Tuesday, December 1, 2009

MDDF Engineers Practice Disaster Response Skills in Capstone Field Exercise

By CPT(MD) James Eder
MDDF Engineer Corps
2 December 2009

BALTIMORE - The Maryland Defense Force (MDDF) Engineer Corps deployed to Camp Fretterd, Md. beginning November 6, 2009 for a three-day field training exercise (FTX) called Operation Ready Wedge. The goal of the exercise was to provide hands-on experience to augment the classroom training and online course work the engineers have undertaken, and to build on the experience gained in previous field exercises. The exercise also incorporated the MDDF’s 10th Medical Regiment to provide a realistic first aid scenario.

"The purpose of exercise Ready Wedge 2009 was to validate the extensive disaster assessment and response training that the Engineer Corps conducted during the summer, said Col. (MD) Brian Kelm, commander of the Engineer Corps. "This FTX was the culmination of the training where all the individual pieces were brought together for a final examination. This realistic exercise was based on a very possible scenario and the MDDF engineers and medical professionals forged a team which has shown that it can successfully complete the mission."

The exercise, built on a simulated hurricane scenario, provided training in command, control, and communications (C3), small unit leadership, disaster assessment, land navigation, field operations and survival, and first aid and emergency response.

"This was the first exercise I’ve participated in where we had so many MDDF units involved - engineers, medical, communications, chaplains and civilian volunteers," said Maj. (MD) Linda Chatterton, Engineer Corps. "Everyone was able to work together, learned from the training and assimilated it into the field exercise. I was proud to be a part of it and feel better about our overall capability. I learned there is enthusiasm for these exercises and a desire of everyone to strengthen our individual and unit skills."

The FTX was initiated on the evening of Thursday, November 5th with a test of the emergency "phone tree" system that was developed to contact personnel in the event of a recall. An advanced party deployed to Camp Fretterd on the afternoon of November 6th to establish the Command Operations Center and coordinate logistics. The advanced team spent the night at Camp Fretterd.

The main segment of the FTX began on Saturday, November 7th. Participants from the Engineer Corps, 10th Medical Regiment, and several other MDDF units assembled at 0800 for the commander’s intent and team assignments. Col. Kelm provided the commander’s intent. Brig. Gen. (MD) Courtney Wilson, commanding general of the MDDF, and Col. (MD) Stanley Minken, commander of the 10th Medical Regiment, also addressed the assembled MDDF members. The engineers were organized into five assessment teams with a member of 10th Medical Regiment assigned to each team to assist with any medical needs, either as part of an exercise or due to any "real world" situations.

The command staff presented the operational order (OPORD) for the FTX to the team leaders who then developed a confirmation brief and team orders. The confirmation brief required the team leaders to verbally restate the main points of the OPORD to confirm they understood the objectives and details of their mission. This meant describing their understanding of the situation and mission, explaining how they planned to execute the order (the route they planned on using, checkpoints and objectives, approximate times that the teams will be arrive at assigned check points and objectives, tasks assigned to each team member, safety precautions to be used, communications protocols, equipment needed, etc.), administrative duties (processing forms, photo documentation, etc.), and command, logistics and signal structure and procedures.

The team leaders presented their confirmation brief verbally to the command staff at approximately 1100. They also developed map overlays that identified the location of all objectives and intermediate checkpoints and the route they planned to use to reach each of these points. The command staff responded with critiques and suggestions which were discussed with the individual team leaders.

While the team leaders were preparing their plans, the other team members received refresher training on land navigation and communications procedures. The land navigation training consisted of lessons on using the lensatic compass and determining the team’s location on the map. Radio communications training involved learning to listen prior to transmitting in order to not transmit over another team, the proper method of identifying the team, team accountability, the phonetic radio alphabet, and other standard protocols.

At noon, the team leaders assembled their teams and issued their orders. This order provided the team members with more specific details on the execution of the mission and provided each team member their specific assignments, a list of their objectives, a list of the tasks to be completed at each objective, the routes to be used, and the equipment needed to complete these tasks.

The teams then proceeded to their primary objectives. The disaster assessment exercise consisted of a series of photographs of damaged buildings with a brief description of each. The assessment required the teams to look for evidence of the extent of damage to each structure depicted. This meant structural damage such as cracked walls and damaged roofs, water damage such as high water marks on structures, and then using this information to determine the extent of damage and to complete the required assessment form. If the structure was a single or multifamily residence or a business, it required an assessment of the need for individual assistance. If it was a component of public infrastructure, it required an assessment of the need for public assistance. Each assessment required team members to give their opinion on the extent and estimate of the cost of the damage. The team leader listened to their input and then determined the best way to complete the assessment forms.

When each team completed the disaster assessment at their primary objective, they reported the results to the operations center and then proceeded to their secondary objective and repeated the process.

At a location determined by the 10th Medical Regiment, a realistic first aid scenario using civilian volunteers was inserted into the exercise. The teams were not told where this location would be, so they did not know when to expect the scenario. The scenario consisted of three "role-play" victims. One was unconscious in a ravine and partially covered with debris. Another was located on top of a hill and was conscious, but unresponsive. The last victim was conscious and injure, but hysterical, adding to the realism of the scenario and increasing the stress level for the teams. Observers critiqued the response of each team pausing the exercise as necessary to point out errors that were being made and to provide instruction on how to correctly respond.

"This exercise was very useful and pointed out the need for the Engineer Corps to do more "hands on" first aid exercises," said Chatterton. "The scenario was very realistic and all patrols felt the urgency and heightened anxiety. The exercise quickly demonstrated the need for leadership, quick assessment of the situation and setting priorities. Triaging the victims is critical. While we have done well with our "hands on" training in CPR and first aid, we have work to do in handling the overall management of a disaster scene."

Col. Kelm rated the FTX a success. The staff demonstrated its ability to plan and manage multiple components of a complex field exercise. MDDF Engineers were able to obtain all of the needed tools to successfully complete the exercise, such as maps, computers, software, communications gear, go packs, and first aid supplies. An effective command post was established that ably monitored and managed five field teams. The field teams all managed to reach their objectives, complete their assessments at each objective, and deal with a first aid emergency insert. And the engineers were also able to work effectively with elements of 10th Medical, G6, and the Chaplain Corps.

Reflecting on the MDDF’s renewed focus on developing a stronger noncommissioned officer corps, First Sgt. Buddy Scott summed up the role of the engineer NCOs, "training, training, and more training." The NCOs also planned, coordinated and delivered all logistics requirements for the FTX.

"I learned that the MDDF has a great wealth of knowledge because of the wide variety of backgrounds and specialties each member posses," said Capt. (MD) Matthew Holland, Engineer Corps. "The first aid exercise taught me that being level headed helps in an emergency, but unless I know how to save someone from possible death I will still fail my ultimate mission. I need to increase my knowledge of first aid. I would say the FTX exceeded my expectations, especially when we incorporated radios and proper terminology."

"Most importantly," Kelm added. "We learned important lessons in a safe and controlled environment that led to better training and more experienced and ready personnel."

Headquartered at the Pikesville Military Reservation in Baltimore, the Maryland Defense Force is a volunteer uniformed state military agency organized under the Maryland Military Department. Formally established by the Maryland legislature in 1917, the unit's heritage and traditions trace back to the 17th century.

MDDF is one of a number of State Defense Forces authorized by the U.S. Congress under Title 32 and the respective state legislatures. While specific missions vary from state to state, State Defense Forces exist primarily to augment the capabilities of the National Guard. Employing volunteers who bring military experience and/or civilian professional skills, they supplement the capabilities of the National Guard, assist in National Guard mobilization for federal service, replace National Guard assets deployed out-of-state, and support state homeland security missions. State Defense Forces operate under the command of the Governor, as state Commander-in-Chief, and fall under the operational control of the state Adjutant General. State Defense Forces receive no federal funds and are supported entirely by the state.

For more information about the Maryland Defense Force, go to: http://mddf.maryland.gov