April 30, 2008

Defense Force Brigade practices disaster skills at Camp Powhatan

By Maj. Rick McCraw
Highland Brigade Public Affairs

The Highland Brigade of the Virginia Defense Force (VDF) challenged their troops with a full-blown emergency and disaster exercise April 12-13 at Camp Powhatan in Pulaski County. The training exercise focused on search and rescue of a simulated downed aircraft, rescue and first aid for a bus accident, and providing assistance to local authorities on dealing with an unruly mob after a natural disaster.

The exercise also was designed to train on skills and practice that supported cooperation with various disaster organizations, communication and the use of the Incident Command System that has been recommended for use by Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

 “The training was comprehensive, outstanding, interesting, and enabled all troops to have an outstanding day,” said Brig. Gen. John Eberhardt, deputy division commander of the VDF. In addition to Eberhardt, who was on site for the entire training event, Maj. Gen. John Taylor, the commander of the VDF, also visited the training site.

The Highland Brigade is composed of volunteers from all over southwest Virginia and is organized into three battalions. Each battalion has a headquarters in local National Guard Armories in the communities of Rocky Mount, Gate City and Lynchburg. The Highland Brigade Headquarters and the Headquarters Company is located in Roanoke. The VDF, a military organization that operates under the auspices of the Virginia Department of Military affairs, is an all-volunteer organization that supports the local community and is the reserve element of the Virginia National Guard in times of crises.

Almost 100 VDF troops participated in the exercise that included triage of simulated crash victims, search and rescue of a downed aircraft that included the evacuation of the injured pilot and passengers as well as civil disturbance training in fictional town of “Eberhardtville.” Local Boy Scouts provided simulated victims and rioters.

While the training focused on the triage, communications, civil disturbance, and security training, VDF troops also for the first time received hands on training with integration of the Incident Command System (ICS).

“The integration of ICS was the training that held the most value,” said 1st Sgt. Randal Light, a Bedford resident assigned to A Company, 24th Battalion. “Using the Incident Command System to gain a working knowledge of it (ICS) so when we interact with civilian authorities we can understand what is going on was invaluable.”

Given that interoperability was the real mission objective Highland Brigade assistant training officer Maj. Charles Law also integrated the exercise with the local Emergency Operations Center. The VDF Tactical Operations Center was in touch with the Regional Hospital Coordination Center, in Roanoke during the drill scenarios. The Virginia Department of Health was also kept informed via special web-based database software that was updated with information dynamically during the drill.

“Lessons learned from past disasters tell us that the inability of various agencies to effectively work together during times of need represent some of our greatest opportunities for improvement,” Law said. “These obstacles often arise from standalone systems that do not work together. Drills such as these, where interoperability and the integration and practice with generic command plans like ICS can help us move the VDF towards being a better team player with local and state counterparts.”

 If you are looking for a way to enhance your current job skills, learn a new skill or give back to your local community, the VDF is currently recruiting volunteers to fill a variety of service needs. Virginia residents with experience or education in the following areas are invited to apply: legal, medical, law enforcement, communications, chaplaincy, logistical/supply, administrative, and other areas. Membership in the VDF is open to Virginia residents with or without prior military service, ages 16 to 64. For more information about the VDF please contact Maj. Rick McCraw at MAJRJMCCRAW.aol.com.

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