Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division trained to respond to a Category 5 hurricane in and around Simmons Army Airfield, Dec. 10 to 12.
The culminating training event was an opportunity for troopers of 3rd Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment, XVIII Fires Brigade, to prepare for their upcoming assignment as a quick reaction and rapid response force for U.S. Army North Command in support of emergencies in the United States.
“If the tasks over-exceed the capabilities of the civilian and local governments, U.S. Army North has the capability of deploying units to the continental United States to assist with everything from security operations and critical infrastructure to humanitarian assistance,” said Maj. Roy Beeson, the operations officer for 3-321 FAR.
The Thunderbolt battalion’s training centered on preparing to deploy by ground and air, securing an airfield, establishing local security, responding to civil disturbances, reacting to a biochemical threat and conducting operational decontamination.
“Batteries A and B simulated a ground deployment, securing the aerial port of debarkation where humanitarian support supplies will fly into and establishing a humanitarian assistance site,” said Lt. Col. Joe Bookard, 3 Bn. 321 FAR commander. “Battery C trained to deploy via air, conducting an initial joint technical inspection of vehicles and equipment to prepare them for the aircraft.”
After securing and establishing a humanitarian assistance site, the Bulldog troopers of Battery B prepared to distribute food to a crowd of simulated U.S. hurricane victims.
Sgt. Wesley Powell, an artillery section chief, helped search citizens for weapons using a metal detector before they entered the site to receive aid.
“I needed to ensure their safety and my own,” said the Cisco, Texas, native. “I want the civilians to have confidence in us and what we are trying to do for them. I was trying to talk to them and reassure them while I searched them, but I needed to make sure they didn’t have any weapons or things that could be used to harm other civilians or my unit.”
While distributing the food, some of the citizens became upset as they waited and began to harass the unit and other hurricane victims, inciting a riot-like situation.
“This is a different mission set than what we’re used to — we’re artillery, so we’re ready to shoot rounds downrange. Now, we are training to provide assistance and security for U.S. citizens. We’re identifying how to deal with riot control and other disturbances,” said Capt. David Perez, Battery B commander.
“The ultimate goal is to ensure the safety of the local population and that humanitarian aid is being distributed in an orderly fashion.”
Later, the Bulldogs reacted to a simulated mustard-gas attack, donning their chemical protective gear, known as the joint service lightweight integrated suit technology.
Perez, of Heuagadilla, Puerto Rico, led his Soldiers to a chemical decontamination site where the chemicals on the troops and their equipment were neutralized. The site was set up by the battalion chemical officer, 1st Lt. Cydnia Jackson, of Raleigh, N.C.
“During a natural disaster or other national emergency within the U.S., we need to be able to decontaminate civilians and our forces who come into contact with chemical or biological hazards,” Jackson said. “These types of decontamination corridors were set up after Hurricane Katrina because people were exposed to bacteria and other hazards from standing water.”
As the unit drove their trucks up to the site, passengers were offloaded to decontaminate themselves and put on new chemical protective gear. The drivers and truck commanders went through a vehicle wash station prior to decontaminating themselves.
After washing his light mobility tactical vehicle with a chemical neutralizing mixture, Sgt. Carlos Merchan, of Miami, made his way to the personnel decontamination area.
“I’m really glad we had the opportunity to do this, because I had never trained to decontaminate a vehicle before,” Merchan said.
Following their training at the decontamination site, Battery B moved on to provide security at Simmons Army Airfield while her sister batteries trained at the humanitarian support and decontamination sites.
“At the end of the day, this training is designed to stress the unit and force Soldiers to be able to make the hard decisions at the lowest levels,” Beeson said. “Making those decisions in a training environment now will give the whole battalion a better understanding of what the people we encounter need and how to deal with these tough situations when we take on our mission to support U.S. Army North.”