July 2, 2008

29th Infantry Division prepares to support civil authorities in time of crisis

By Spc. John B. Wood
29th Infantry Division Public Affairs

Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division watch the data in their sectors of the Joint Operations Center as the fictional terrorist scenario plays out during the Defense Support to Civil Authorities exercise conducted at Fort A.P. Hill during the division headquarters' annual training. (Photo by 1st Lt. Eliana York, 29th ID Public Affairs)

FORT A.P. HILL, Va. — Improving its ability to provide assistance to local civil authorities was one of the main training objectives of the 29th Infantry Division Headquarters during annual training at Fort A.P. Hill from June 14-28. The senior staff of the division headquarters conducted a command post exercise focused on a Defense Support to Civil Authorities mission June 23-25.

During DSCA operations Soldiers from National Guard would be aiding civil authorities such as a local sheriff or fire fighters to protect the citizens of Virginia as well as the National Capital Region.

The scenario for the training put an emphasis on preparedness. Soldiers participating in a DSCA exercise had to react and respond appropriately when a series of terrorist incidents strike the DC Metropolitan area. In the scenario, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management asks for the support of the Virginia National Guard. 

According to Col. Steven Scott, the division operations officer, the main purpose of the DSCA exercise is to learn to provide support in a time of civil unrest and to provide military support in a time of emergency.

“Those emergencies can be either natural or man-made, either weather-related or terrorist related,” said Scott. 

The three main goals of the exercise were to improve staff practices, improve the staff’s ability to communicate with higher headquarters and to improve standard operating procedures, Scott said.

“In the event of a real-world disaster, we can refer to our SOPS and react quickly and appropriately,” he said. 

Scott said that in future exercises the senior leaders of the division would like to see even more local support so that both the Soldiers and the civil response teams can be fully trained and prepared for those crucial moments when Americans are in need.

Senior leaders were very impressed with the amount of communication between the different sections.

“Interpersonal communications prevailed overall and was the main factor for the success of this operation,” said Col. Jeffrey A. Connelly, the division chief of staff.  He indicated the division would like to continue with communications training so that the next time the unit is needed it would be in an even better state of readiness.

Connelly said he left AT with a “since of validation,” and added, “these Soldiers are some of the finest Americans I have ever served with. We should never be satisfied with what we’ve achieved because there is always more to be done.”

The DSCA exercise was just one of many training events the unit conducted during their annual training. Their mission for the two-week period was to provide high-caliber training to the 29th Infantry Division Soldiers, and provide they did with Virtual Convoy Operations Training, Electronic Shooters Training, weapon qualifications with the M16-A2 rifle and the M9 pistol, as well as a selection of other Soldier training courses.

The AT began with everyone arriving at Fort A.P. Hill and heading off to the barracks to find themselves a bunk for the two weeks. The next morning the senior staff held physical training exercises to help the Soldiers stay in shape and to be able to handle the training they were going to receiving for the rest of the AT.

After the PT the Soldiers would go back to their barracks and clean themselves up then head over to the mess hall and eat a hardy breakfast. After breakfast the Soldiers would go to their appropriated training and carry out the rest of their day training. The rest of the AT went on in the same fashion.

The Soldiers were given a wide variety of training. The VCOT allowed the Soldiers to step into a virtual world that they used to train on convoy operations. Soldiers would mount gunner seats, driving seats, communication seats, and a convoy commander seat. The Soldiers were put up against scenarios that they would likely see during a deployment to the Middle East.

The EST allowed Soldiers to simulate being on the qualification range so they could practice their marksmanship without wasting ammunition. The EST system also allowed the EST managers to see what the Soldiers were doing wrong if they missed their target and the EST managers would use that information to help the Soldiers correct their mistakes.

The EST allowed large numbers of Soldiers to correct their mistakes before actually reaching the qualification range so they did not have to go through multiple cycles of firing only to take a larger amount of time to figure out what they needed to do to perfect their shooting technique.

The M16-A2 and M9 qualification allows the range operators and the Soldiers to see what level of a marksman the Soldier is. The Soldiers go through multiple positions of firing their weapon, the same kind of positions that they would be in during a real world fire fight.

The Soldiers received Combat Life Saver classes so that if a crucial time ever arises that involves a human being injured they can provide quick, temporary medical aid. The training helped Soldiers understand what it is they need to do in times of distress when medical personal are not available to provide quick aid.

The Soldiers got some rest and relaxation time after their daily training was concluded. Soldiers would gather around talking about their favorite moments or what they were looking forward to coming home to. They would gather around and watch movies together or play a game catch or hold a soccer game, some would go lay in their bunks and crack open a good book. The atmosphere was relaxed and everyone was just trying to enjoy themselves before the next day of training came.

If there is one thing that the Soldiers could all agree on, it was the food at the mess hall. Staff Sgt. Ryan Yancey, a human resource specialist with the 29th ID HHC Main, said that “the food was really, really good.” Spc. Claude Bernarde of the 29th ID HHC Main agreed with Yancey saying “the food was excellent.” The cooks in the mess hall pleased a lot of hungry Soldiers with their delicacy creations.

The staff also made sure that the Soldiers were able to practice their religious beliefs. Sgt. 1st Class Eric DuBois, a member of the chaplain’s section inside the 29th ID, held nightly Bible classes. “My favorite part about this AT was being able to minister to the Soldiers who came to me,” said DuBois.

The Soldiers were a mixture of those from Virginia, Maryland, and those who recently returned from operation KFOR8.

“In a very short period of time we saw the two parts of the unit fused back together,” said Connelly.

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