Defending the homeland.
Exercise Vital Guardian took place beside the D.C. National Guard Armory and RFK Stadium and involved a fictitious weapon of mass destruction--an improvised nuclear device--that was "detonated" by fictional terrorists.
"This is not a show," LTG H. Steven Blum, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, told participants. "This is not a capabilities exercise. This is no-kidding training."
All of the players who would support civil authorities and emergency responders were represented at the high-profile Exercise Vital Guardian. More than 460 Guard members from nine states and the District of Columbia took part.
They included the Virginia National Guard's 34th Civil Support Team from Fort Pickett, the CERFP--short for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-Yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package--from West Virginia, and a security force from the Maryland Guard's 200th Military Police Company.
Thirty National Guard counter-drug personnel also provided real-time aerial surveillance of the scene with aircraft equipped with thermal imagers and forward-looking infrared cameras.
The 55 CSTs that have been formed in every state and territory since 1997, and the 12 CERFPs--one for each Federal Emergency Management Agency region--which have been trained and equipped within the past three years, are among the Guard's principle weapons in the campaign against domestic terrorism.
The first 10 CSTs stood up in 1999. The 22-member units are known for their ability to support civil authorities at incident sites, by identifying chemical, biological and other agents that could endanger emergency responders. The CSTs also function as communications centers for police, fire departments and other agencies.
The mobile analytical labs and unified command suites employed by the federally sanctioned teams make them invaluable assets for state governors. Teams are now on duty or in training in all 54 states and territories. Two are based in California.
The 12 CERFPs are units of 100 or more Guard members who can extract people from confined spaces or collapsed structures, decontaminate victims with assembly-line precision, and triage and stabilize medical casualties.
A full-time civil-support team is usually the core component of a CERFP, which consists of an enhanced chemical-decontamination unit, an enhanced medical unit and an enhanced engineer unit with special search-and-rescue equipment for locating and extracting victims. A quick-reaction unit, such as Maryland's military police company, would provide security support at an incident site if requested.
CERFPs are located in California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and West Virginia. Congress has authorized the National Guard to organize five more units in locations still to be determined.
The CERFPs are not new entities, but an adaptation of units that already exist. They are a combination of Army and Air Guard units that periodically train together, so they could work together during a weapon-of-mass-destruction emergency. The CERFPs' components still retain their wartime missions, said a National Guard Bureau spokesman. They have simply increased their skills to make them extremely useful during a domestic emergency.
That was why Exercise Vital Guardian was considered so important. It is also why other training exercises have been held at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Virginia, and elsewhere in the country.
"Every one of these teams will be stretched beyond its limits on purpose. It's a deliberate stressing of the capabilities to find out how far Soldiers can go before they break," Blum said.
"What we're training for is what we hope never happens. I think we're recognizing that the world has changed and we need to change some of our capabilities to be more relevant for the newly changed world," he added. "This is something I want the American people to know: The National Guard is ready to serve.
"And it is on duty, in the name of homeland defense, in Alaska--at Fort Greely, where the Alaska Guard's 49th Missile Defense Bn. plays a key role in the national missile-defense program announced by President George W. Bush in 2002," Blum said.
For the 300-member battalion, getting its second National Guard commander, LTC Ted Hildreth, was a significant milestone--it signaled the long-term importance of the National Guard to the country, said battalion spokesman LTC Hunt Kerrigan.
Nine ground-based interceptor missiles capable of destroying missiles aimed at any target in the United States have so far been installed in underground silos on a revitalized section of the fort, situated about 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks.
Each interceptor would release a "kill vehicle" designed to hit an incoming missile in mid-course, or about 100 miles in space. The "kill vehicle" would be like a bullet hitting a bullet at a speed of more than 10,000 mph.
Fort Greely is considered an ideal location for the missile site, because the inceptors could track and destroy ballistic missiles fired from Asia and the Middle East, especially from North Korea, China, Russia and Iran. Also, Fort Greely is a secluded, sparsely populated region that allows for wide-ranging tests.
The battalion is part of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade, which is based in Colorado Springs, Colo., and commanded by Colorado Army Guard COL Michael Yowell.
"The Guard here in Alaska has done a marvelous job of standing up this unit, committing it to this mission," said MG Larry Dodgen, commander of the Army's Space and Missile Defense Command.
"I believe there are enduring homeland-security issues that we need the National Guard to do, and this is one that they have embraced and done very well," Dodgen added.
The Guard Soldiers also understand that homeland defense is a traditional mission for the National Guard and that they have to be prepared for the worst.
"I am actually one of the operators who sits on the system. I think it is very important to the nation's security," said SPC Josh Wheeler. "There's a big threat out there, and it could come at any time, so we need to be prepared."
The Guard on the Border
PRESIDENT George W. Bush has called for up to 6,000 National Guard Soldiers to be deployed along the U.S. border with Mexico, to help Customs and Border Protection stem the flow of illegal immigrants into America and to support efforts to reform the immigration system.
The initial commitment would be for one year, while the CBP begins recruiting and training thousands of new agents and beefs up its border security with new technology, the president said during a nationally televised address in May.
Bush said that the CBP would be supported by an additional 6,000 officers by the end of 2008, and that improved technology for border security would include high-tech fences, motion sensors, infrared cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles "to prevent illegal crossings."
Employing Guard troops would be one of "several immediate steps to strengthen border enforcement during this period of transition," Bush said.
As new technologies and newly trained CBP agents become available, the Guard's presence along the border would be reduced.
Bush said the federal government would coordinate with governors to place Guard troops along the southern borders of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
"The Border Patrol will remain in the lead," Bush said. "Guard units will not be involved in direct law-enforcement activities--that duty will be done by the Border Patrol."
Guard troops would assist the CBP by "operating surveillance systems, analyzing intelligence, installing fences and vehicle barriers, building patrol roads and providing training," Bush said.
And border duty would not affect the National Guard's ability to perform its other duties.
"It is important for Americans to know that we have enough Guard forces to win the war on terror, to respond to natural disasters and to help secure our border," he added.
The National Guard Bureau reported that the Army and Air National Guard have a total of 440,000 men and women, of whom 71,000 are currently engaged in the war on terror.
"The National Guard can do this mission. We have the skills, the capabilities and the available, highly-trained people," Guard officials said. "Our Soldiers and airmen will perform this mission under the command and control of the state governors, and under the funding of the federal government, on Title 32 status."
"The United States is not going to militarize the southern border," Bush said. "Mexico is our neighbor, and our friend."
Guard engineer units have built fences and roads along the southern border during annual training rotations for more than 20 years. Additionally, the National Guard has been supporting counter-drug missions along the border since 1989.
This is not the first time that Bush has asked for National Guard troops to support domestic authorities for an extended period. In 2002 more than 1,300 Guard troops assisted the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Border Patrol and the U.S. Customs Service in conducting inspections at 52 sites in 12 states along the northern and southern borders.
Airport security became a major Guard mission during the winter of 2001-2002, early in the war against terrorism.
Nearly 9,000 Army and Air Guard members were assigned to 444 airports by December 2001, after the president requested additional personnel during that holiday season, a National Guard Bureau official said. Less than half of that number remained on duty when the airport mission ended in May 2002.
"The National Guard's past performance is indicative of future success," said officials who are confident that the Guard would help in the effort to deter illegal immigrants from crossing the southern border.--MSG Bob Haskell
Story by MSG Bob Haskell
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|Title Annotation:||The Army National Guard|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2006|
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