By Jennifer Archdekin
LEXINGTON, Mo. - Missouri National Guard's 311th Brigade Support Battalion, headquartered in Lexington, is gearing up for a national-level earthquake exercise known as Vigilant Guard. From Nov. 3-7, more than 275 Citizen-Soldiers from the battalion will train with the scenario that a catastrophic earthquake has hit the New Madrid fault line in southeast Missouri.
The support battalion operates under the 110th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, headquartered in Kansas City. The brigade will lend more than 900 troops to the exercise, which involves more than thousands of participants from Missouri and other states.
The event will test the readiness of the Missouri Guard along with its civilian, military and federal partners. The 311th will be positioned to establish and operate a logistical supply area at Fort Leonard Wood in order to resupply Missouri National Guard forces, along with other outside entities helping.
"We provide water, food, fuel, maintenance and resupply -- all the things that keep Soldiers in the fight," said Maj. Rutledge McClain, executive officer for the battalion. "The 311th Brigade Support Battalion is ideal for this mission because our mission set is the same whether we're in Afghanistan or in the U.S., and that is to provide supplies to Soldiers and units allowing them to accomplish their missions."
McClain said battalion is running the logistical supply area for the whole state.
"We are the major stockyard of resupply during the earthquake response and recovery," said McClain.
McClain explained that the battalion is designed to support about 2,000 people. In this scenario he estimates his battalion could support 15,000.
"Prioritization is the key to success," McClain said. "First, we meet the demand of military forces employed to save lives; forces such as medical service, search and extraction, hazardous materials handling, and others coming into the affected area. Teams coming to Missouri will need to refuel and resupply, and we'll help get them to where they need to go."
McClain said the battalion will respond with their organic personnel and equipment. The severity of the calamity will determine what additional units and other assets are requested. Additional resources will be a combination of civilian contract support and other National Guard or federal forces brought in from outside Missouri.
"We would start coordinating our short falls and prioritize what units coming in from other states are bringing with them," said McClain. "If the earthquake happened in August when it was hot and water supplies were not available, citizens may have a greater need for water before food or fuel. If the earthquake caused cars to block roadways and we couldn't get our vehicles to the affected area for search and rescue, we'd need more recovery vehicles to clear the roadways."
The battalion's Company A, out of Nevada, and its detachment in Lamar, are responsible for supply distribution. The unit provides fuel, water, commodities and food. They can operate as a mobile gas station and also carry out water purification missions.
Company B, in Fulton, is a maintenance unit. The personnel in this unit are tasked with fixing vehicles that break down and are also able to recover them if necessary.
The 548th Transportation Company based in Trenton transports whatever is needed. McClain said they are the over-the-road haulers of the Army. During the exercise they will be tasked with delivery of vital equipment for more than 400 New York National Guardsmen who are part of the search and rescue team with the Homeland Response Force.
Vigilant Guard has been in the works for several years and McClain said his battalion has been prepping for the exercise for about three years. The New Madrid earthquake may never happen, but whether it does or doesn't, McClain said the 311th is better prepared to serve the citizens of Missouri.
"Having a plan is not the key to success, planning is," said McClain. "Planning forces us to understand the problem or situation, and assess our ability to solve that problem and improve the situation. The information gained in planning allows us to react to not only an earthquake, but also an ice storm, tornado, fire or any other large-scale disaster. Planning takes a lot of time and effort, but it all comes down to preparedness. Missouri National Guard Soldiers will tell you it's our duty. We have a responsibility to care for our fellow citizens when something bad happens on the home front."
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.
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