Michigan Army National Guard infantrymen and engineers from across the state tested their emergency response capabilities during a simulated nuclear detonation exercise called Northern Exposure, June 23-26.
In Grand Rapids, Northern Exposure integrated Michigan National Guard troops with civilians from the Kent County Department of Public Works and Road Commission and the Kent County Medical Reserve Corps. The exercise was designed to rehearse life sustaining capabilities needed during a natural or manmade catastrophic event and confirm the readiness of Michigan National Guard units.
Civilian role players were also injected into the scenario to act as panicked citizens displaced by the nuclear event. The role players were instructed to disrupt the Soldier’s scenarios in a variety of ways to add realism to the exercise. The disruptions tested the Soldiers’ capabilities to effectively aid and assist civilians in the midst of a disaster.
At a yard-waste disposal site, the scenario included dozens of mangled cars, telephone poles, steel grating and other wreckage put in place by Kent Count Road Commission employees to block the major roadway. In the midst of the physical carnage, civilian role players interfered as the infantry and engineers tried to extract a wounded civilian represented by a mannequin.
“Is that my son? That’s my son!” cried a woman role player as she struggled to make her way through the Soldiers. Another female actor wrestled to get to a can of soup strategically placed near the area where Soldiers were trying to access a casualty.
Pfc. Isaac Wynne, a medic assigned to Saginaw-based, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment commented on the difference between dealing with combatants in a warzone and citizens in a noncombatant environment stating that it was necessary to use a “lighter hand.”
Having civilian role players in the scenario was a new venture for Michigan National Guard infantrymen and engineers. Because of this, prior to the exercise the Soldiers had specific training to prepare them to handle this type of situation.
“Leading up to the exercise we had briefings on what we can and can’t do,” said Staff Sgt. Kirill Pavlov, Company A, 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment squad leader and an intern and a mechanical engineer student at Lawrence University. “We’re here to assist and support. It’s half of our job—every Guardsman needs to know how to help out their community.”
Spc. Sidney Campbell, an infantryman for 12 years with the Big Rapids-based, 125th’s Company D, said that this was his first time participating in an exercise such as this. “The exercise showed unit cohesion between us and the other units,” said Campbell.
Michigan National Guard heavy equipment operators from the Montague-based, 1436th Engineer Company and Grand Rapids Department of Public Works employees cleared the road and lifted wreckage that pinned victims underneath. The infantrymen and Grand Rapids fire fighters rehearsed lifesaving capabilities and the infantry carried victims on gurneys. The civilian role players were identified with wrist bands to classify their pseudo-injuries and then escorted by the Soldiers for triage by Kent County Medical Reserve Corps on site.
Civil unrest was also played out at Fort Custer Training Center in Augusta. Here, Soldiers from the 125th Infantry Regiment and the 1776th Military Police Company based in Taylor were tasked to keep peace as citizens clamored for medical aid and food. A loud speaker mounted atop a Humvee repeated messages to the crowd reassuring them that food and medical aid was coming and to gather in groups of five.
As the role players acted out aggression and hostility, the military police were armed with simulated pepper spray and others began to suit-up in riot gear as the crowd was coached by the contracting company to role play as rioters.
Staff Sgt. David Vandenberge, a team leader with the Company C, 125th Infantry in Wyoming had deployed to Kosovo and Iraq as an infantryman and addressed the paradigm shift for the Soldiers.
“This training involves taking care of those in our own backyard,” said Vandenberge. “It’s a completely different mentality [than combat]. You want to be able to get medical, food, water and shelter to them, but in order to do that their safety and our safety must come first.”
Months of planning were required to coordinate the Northern Exposure exercise. In July, the Michigan National Guard will kick off another training exercise in Northern Michigan called Northern Strike, a National Guard Bureau sponsored combined arms, live-fire exercise which emphasizes close-air-support with military aircraft in a combat environment. Different in focus than Northern Exposure, Northern Strike will integrate joint training across the U.S. armed forces and will include coalition participation from allied nations. Northern Strike is scheduled to run July 13 to August 1.