Region's Homeland Response Force is mission ready after exercise

Missouri National Guardsmen of the Region 7 Homeland Response Force remove a disaster victim from the rubble during recent validation exercises at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex in North Vernon, Ind. The Region 7 Force was certified as mission ready as a result of the exercise. (Bill Phelan photo)


Bill Phelan

NORTH VERNON, Ind. - A regional disaster response force of Missouri National Guardsmen is now certified as mission ready after participating in a large-scale validation exercise involving several explosions in St. Louis.

The Region 7 Homeland Response Force, covering Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska, received its validation certification from Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Danner, adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard, following the March 19-23 exercise at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex in North Vernon, Ind.

The St. Louis-based Region 7 Force is one of 10 military rapid response teams being established by the U.S. Department of Defense to aid civil authorities in the event of a natural or manmade disaster that exceeds their response capabilities. Each Homeland Response Force consists of 570 Soldiers and Airmen of the National Guard with expertise in search and extraction of disaster victims, incident site security, decontamination, medical treatment and command and control of the mission. Under Defense Department guidelines, each response force must have a 6-12 hour response capability to receive validation.

In the validation exercise, a chemical explosion rocks the Scottrade Center in downtown St. Louis during a Disney on Ice performance. Explosions then occur at Children's Hospital and in the city's Compton Heights neighborhood. In the aftermath, Soldiers and Airmen of the Region 7 Homeland Response Force wearing chemical suits and respirators, must locate and remove hundreds of victims from each disaster site, decontaminate them, provide each with emergency medical treatment and secure the affected areas from on-lookers. All of this took place under the watchful eye of observers from the Joint Interagency Training and Education Center, who graded every responder's move in the goal toward validation.

"This was our culminating exercise," said Col. Wendul G. Hagler, the Region 7 Response Force commander. "We had to manage our forces appropriately and mitigate human suffering as quickly as possible using our security element and our decontamination, medical triage, and search and extraction capabilities. Overall, I think this exercise was put together very well and represented a fair representation of what we might face in the real world. Our troops have shouldered this load under austere conditions and their performance has been outstanding."

Since realism was an important aspect of the exercise, civilians portraying the disaster victims displayed various wounds through the application of creative makeup while smoke billowed from the fake buildings in which they were trapped. Many were deliberately uncooperative with military police, while others cried out for help.
"This exercise is requiring us to do things we don't normally do as military police," said Lt. Col. Rodney Ginter, of Columbia, commander of the 205th Military Police Battalion, which fielded troops from six companies during the exercise. "We are dealing with people who are not always happy and we have to do it in a chemical suit. This raises the bar for us because it is so realistic and that is a credit to everyone involved."

In a display of National Guard flexibility, Ginter pointed out that the 1140th Military Police Company, headquartered Fulton, decontaminated the disaster victims in place of a chemical decontamination unit that is deployed to the Middle East.

Other Missouri Guard units who took part in the exercise included the 735th Field Service Company, of De Soto, the Air National Guard's 139th Medical Group from St. Joseph and administrative staff from the 70th Troop Command, based in St. Louis County.

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A Missouri National Guard medic treats the victim of a disaster exercise for the Region 7 Homeland Response Force at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex in North Vernon, Ind. Under the training scenario, a chemical explosion has occurred at the Scottrade Center in downtown St. Louis. (Bill Phelan photo)

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