August 26, 2004
Infantry battalion conducts joint Homeland Defense training
By Spc. Stephanie Willer
Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, headquartered in Roanoke, Va., conducted a joint Homeland Defense training exercise on Aug. 7 with police departments from Roanoke, Danville, Salem and Christiansburg, the Roanoke Fire Department and the Virginia Defense Force (VADF). The local media also participated in a training exercise at the William Fleming High School in Roanoke.
“We've been planning and coordinating with local Emergency Services to do joint operations and prepare for future emergencies that would involve our agencies working together,” said Lt. Col. Eric Barr. “Normally, we don't even know each other before we are thrown into civilian emergencies on very short notice. Now we know each other both professionally and, in some cases personally, and we better understand how our respective agencies function, and what each of us brings to the event.”
The scenario consisted of three truck bomb attacks, with two being simulated in the City of Roanoke. One was at the Depoff Federal Building while the other was at the Wachovia Tower Building. The actual training exercise took place at the high school which was designated as the Valley Shopping Mall.
During this simulated scenario, the Roanoke City Emergency Services assessed the situation and put in a request to the Governor’s Office that the National Guard be activated to assist in the disturbance. A Mutual Aid Agreement was also put in place, so other police departments could be brought in for assistance.
According to 1st Sgt. Vincent A. May, when the Governor authorizes the Guard to come in, “We would be 24 to 36 hours into the problem.” The soldiers’ involvement would consist of securing check points, conducting vehicle searches and managing crowd control situations. The Virginia Defense Force was also present to aid in the operation of check points, as well as supplying a communications vehicle.
The exercise began in the early morning. By 8:00 a.m., the Emergency Operations Center in Roanoke City was up and running and the Incident Command Post (ICP) was established on site. Maj. Lapthe Flora, 1st. Battalion, 116th Infantry Executive Officer, was in-charge of relaying information to the designated company commander so he could move his troops through the exercise. Flora was also involved in interacting with the local responders and handling logistics for equipment placement.
According to May, “Everything needs to be as real as possible. We have agitators and an opposing force. We have an outline for them to follow and simulate a civil unrest.”
May explained that the plan for the day was to detain the aggressors and arrest them.
During an interview with the local media, Channel 13, based in Lynchburg, May was asked the question as to why this type of training was being conducted in Roanoke. May said, “The folks in Oklahoma City never thought it could happen to them.” He added, “No one is exempt from terrorist attacks. It could happen in our hometown.”
May explained that with all the intelligence updates that have developed over the past week, “The timelines have been real world for our part-time soldiers.”
When referring to the National Guard’s previous level of training May said, “We’ve taken it a step further.” In years past the civil disturbance response was a ‘stomp and drag’ with the baton.” With the increased level of terrorist threats he said, “We are going to have to do a little more … the situations and times have changed. This is a proactive approach to training.”
Approximately 30 aggressors, which were comprised of police officers as well as guardsmen, confronted the response teams. Their plan was to take control of the situation by disarming the aggressors and taking them into custody while avoiding any type of casualty.
The local police department moved in first with batons and shields in-hand. Some of the aggressors made their way to the roof tops of the complex creating a threat from above as well as from ground level. At one point, the police had secured a section of the complex when several aggressors tried to advance on the law enforcement.
By this time the National Guard’s presence was visible as they approached the disturbance. The mounted police were bringing up the rear, as they were seated atop their horses waiting to show force if necessary. However, when the condition escalated, the response teams decided to bring in the K-9 unit who successfully captured and detained several of the aggressors.
During the commotion some of the aggressors spread out and were now all over the complex. There was a call in from the ICP advising of a casualty in one of the buildings. The Roanoke Emergency Medical Service (EMS) responded quickly. In spite of this, the unit left their vehicle unprotected, which later became part of the aggressor’s possession.
Firefighter Tobby Bedwell from the Roanoke Fire Department was in charge on the Unified Command. He said that the one thing he would have changed was, “In the future we would secure our vehicles. When I heard the sirens, I said, ‘Oh no! They took our vehicles, this isn’t good.’” This comment created some laughter among the group during their After Action Briefing. May interjected by saying, “This is something that would happen in a real-world attack,” He added, “but that’s what these missions are intended for. It’s our job to identify the problem and make corrective actions in the future.”
As the day’s exercise continued, arrests were being made throughout the complex and the number of aggressors was diminishing. Yet, the response team was still faced with removing the few remaining men from the roof tops. This was a job for the fire department who brought in two fire trucks in an attempt to bring the aggressors to submission. Battalion Fire Chief, Jeff Becker explained to the group during their briefing that in a real world situation they would be using larger hoses and hydrants. “If we hooked up to a hydrant, those men would have been taken off the roof.” He added that the hydrants have the capacity to push 2000 gallons of water-per-minute. “We were using 150 gallons-per-minute, you do the math.”
Barr said the exercise was very successful. “For the soldiers and junior leaders it was a great learning experience as well, working with EMS personnel and figuring out how National Guardsmen coordinate operations with policemen, firefighters, VADF, etc.”