September 18, 2007

Exercise Tests Virginia Army Guard's Vigilance

By Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka
National Guard Bureau News

With “most-wanted” posters of terrorists in the background, Staff Sgt. Wallace Fellenzer and Staff Sgt. Jason McCoy of the Virginia Army National Guard conduct intelligence analysis operations on Sept. 6 at Fort Belvoir, Va., during a Vigilant Guard command post exercise that tested the National Guard’s preparedness for homeland defense. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka)

FORT BELVOIR, Va. – Eighty-eight Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers helped to defuse a simulated explosive situation during the second day of a Vigilant Guard training exercise here Sept. 6.

It was a command post exercise designed for the National Guard, in coordination with local, state and federal agencies, to exercise its emergency response plans, policies and procedures during a simulated terrorist attack against the National Capital Region. Everyone worked together in Task Force Nova.

As it was responding to terrorist-caused explosions on the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge between Virginia and Maryland and an explosion at the Colonial Pipeline in Fairfax, the task force of Soldiers from the 29th Infantry Division learned of an additional explosion in Alexandria that resulted in a train derailment and caused a chemical release.

The newly confirmed explosion meant additional Virginia Guard resources would have to be directed toward Alexandria, potentially hampering and complicating the National Guard’s response to the Wilson Bridge and Fairfax explosions.

The additional strain on resources was exactly what Vigilant Guard controllers and evaluators hoped to create as the exercise tested the preparedness and response of the National Guard to provide support to civil authorities. There were no actual lives in the balance during Vigilant Guard, but every participant realized that the potential for terrorist attacks, especially in the Washington region, is a very real threat and the National Guard must prepare to respond to concurrent contingencies.

The training exercise ran Sept. 5-7 in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia and included more than 300 National Guard Soldiers, Airmen, defense contractors and civilian officials.

“This exercise tests our ability to communicate, plan and implement our support and assistance to civilian authorities,” said 1st Lt. Eliana Walsh of the 29th Infantry Division. “It’s been stressed (by officials) not to view Vigilant Guard as an exercise, but as reality.”

Maj. Gen. Robert Newman, the Virginia National Guard’s adjutant general, emphasized to the task force that there are no second chances in a real-world contingency.
“None of us can afford to fail the next time the balloon goes up,” Newman said. “For the next (catastrophic) event, we’ve got to be ready.”

Newman said exercises such as Vigilant Guard give National Guard and state officials the opportunity to assess the Guard’s mission requirements for homeland defense.

“The exercise allows us to ensure that the missions, formations, personnel and equipment dedicated to a contingency are going to fulfill our obligations to the governor,” Newman said. “The exercises have been beneficial and have pointed out both our successes and our shortcomings so we can work to make those future successes.”

The Exercise Control Cell for Vigilant Guard was located in the Virginia Emergency Operations Center in Richmond. Joint Task Force Nova replicated lower echelon units.

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