As a field artillery convoy funnels in behind them, Sgt. Maj. Patrick Berendzen (left), operations sergeant major with the 1-138th Infantry Regiment in Kansas City, and Master Sgt. Dale Sharp (right), operations sergeant with the 1-129th Field Artillery Battalion in Maryville, discuss plans for the Vigilant Guard earthquake exercise to take place in November. The artillerymen were returning from training at Fort Chaffee, Ark. and stopped at Camp Clark in Nevada to put their plans for a joint reception, staging, onward movement and integration site to the test. (Photo by Jennifer Archdekin/Missouri National Guard)
By Jennifer Archdekin
NEVADA, Mo. - In November, the Missouri National Guard will participate in a large-scale exercise known as Vigilant Guard in response to the possibility of a catastrophic earthquake near the New Madrid fault. Should such a disaster occur, the Guard is working on a response plan, while fostering relationships with its civilian, military and federal partners.
Though the drill is months away, two northwest Missouri units are already testing the waters and looking for ways to improve their roles in the drill. The 1-129th Field Artillery Battalion, headquartered in Maryville, and the 1-138th Infantry Regiment, headquartered in Kansas City, are leaning forward in their assigned tasks to support Vigilant Guard this fall.
Guard units across the state are tapped for a variety of missions to help out their fellow citizens. The 1-129th is responsible for receiving out-of-state Guard units and other civil authorities at a joint reception, staging, onward movement and integration site, or JRSOI, before going on to do their missions. The 1-138th is set to provide security for the field artillery and other elements as needed.
"Our role is to receive those units as they come into the state and integrate them into the operation that's going on," said Maj. James Knickerbocker, executive officer with the 1-129th.
Unrelated to Vigilant Guard, the field artillery battalion recently trained for two weeks at Fort Chaffee, Ark. On their way to the training, more than 300 troops from units in Maryville, Albany, Chillicothe, Independence and Marshall passed through Camp Crowder in Neosho. The troops were checked in as though they were reporting to serve on a disaster mission. This enabled the unit to work out kinks and troubleshoot their own process for the earthquake exercise in November.
"We treated our own units during the movement to and from Fort Chaffee as incoming units from other states," said Knickerbocker. "We found a few things we wanted to change."
The field artillery was then able to improve their operating plan. Upon returning to Missouri, the units passed through Camp Clark in Nevada to again check in units and run them through the JRSOI process.
The New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 rank as some of the largest in U.S. history. The earthquakes' devastation has been a stark reminder for the Missouri National Guard and civilian responders to be prepared for the next one.
It's understandable that after such a traumatic event, the opportunity for chaos and confusion to creep in is great. The Missouri National Guard is trying to avoid as much disorder and panic as possible, while getting troops and other agencies to the affected areas in a safe, yet timely, manner. Critical issues, such as medical or mechanical problems can be addressed and fixed by the field artillery before sending them down the road.
Maj. Timothy Strohman, operations officer with the 1-129th said troops will automatically start reporting to armories within 24-48 hours after such an earthquake, and will be in position to process workers within 72 hours.
"In the event of an earthquake, our units will mobilize as quickly as possible so we can get to those established JRSOI sites and get into position to prepare to receive those units from other states," said Strohman. "We don't want to hold them up. We want to get them as quickly as possible to that command that's in the impacted area, so that we can get out there and start helping Missouri citizens."
Strohman said they are prepared to handle up to three of these sites throughout Missouri. The exercises at Camp Crowder and Camp Clark allowed the artillerymen to gauge how long it would take them to process about 100 people at a time and allow them to make improvements.
"Really, it's not something we don't do already in some respects," said Strohman. "As a battalion, when we move anywhere, like for annual training, we receive our own units. This is just on a grander scale and will last a lot longer."
During the Camp Clark simulation, representatives with the infantry regiment were also on hand to observe and troubleshoot their piece of the mission, which is to provide security.
Sgt. Maj. Patrick Berendzen, operations sergeant major with the 1-138th, said his infantry unit will help control movement within the area while monitoring and safeguarding equipment and supplies. They will try to eliminate any disruptions to the forces, and he said he hopes their presence will be a calming factor to the communities where they are located.
"This is big," said Berendzen. "It's critical to process the elements rolling in and get them on target and where they are needed to be. That's what it's all about."
Although it is difficult to predict when and how intense the next earthquake will be, the Missouri National Guard takes everything into consideration. The Guard's first priority is saving lives through rescue efforts. Soldiers and Airmen are among the first responders for state emergencies and disasters, such as in 2011 when troops were mobilized for a blizzard, floods and tornado response.
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As a field artillery convoy funnels in behind them, Master Sgt. Dale Sharp (left), operations sergeant with the 1-129th Field Artillery Battalion in Maryville, and Sgt. Maj. Patrick Berendzen (right), operations sergeant major with the 1-138th Infantry Regiment in Kansas City, discuss plans for the Vigilant Guard earthquake exercise to take place in November. The artillerymen were returning from training at Fort Chaffee, Ark. and stopped at Camp Clark in Nevada to put their plans for a joint reception, staging, onward movement and integration site to the test. (Photo by Jennifer Archdekin/Missouri National Guard)