The Alaska National Guard, in coordination with nearly 50 organizations and more than 4,000 participants, conducted their state’s portion of the annual Vigilant Guard exercise from April 26 – May 1, 2010. Local governments, the State of Alaska, Alaska National Guard and Joint Task Force Alaska conducted a state-wide exercise that was designed to “increase emergency response capabilities” to earthquakes and natural disasters. The exercise scenario involved an earthquake affecting South Central Alaska and combined the state’s Alaska Shield exercise, National Guard’s Vigilant Guard exercise, and Joint Task Force Alaska’s Arctic Edge exercise. A major component of the exercise involved the expertise of the National Guard CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package, which deals with chemical, biological, and radiological disaster response. The National Guard describes the importance of the exercise in building “synchronization” between local and federal authorities.
“We are testing an unbelievable amount of effort and synchronization,” said Army Maj. Gen. Thomas H. Katkus, adjutant general for the Alaska National Guard. “Every one of them is a little bit different in what we’re trying to do, but it’s one driving factor – the earthquake – that affects everyone across the broad spectrum.”
By working with local first responders in a training environment, it will help strengthen those bonds should an actual large-scale disaster or emergency occur.
“It reinforces those relationships that we said, and I’ve always professed, are critical if we are going to be successful in a large-scale response,” said Katkus, adding that the exercise also reinforces the Guard’s role within the local community.
Following the completion of the exercise, a large number of photos were released by the National Guard via Flickr depicting all four days of exercise activity. Exercise operations took place at a number of different locations, including a local prison, mock shopping malls, and mock downtown areas where hired “rioters” pretend to be gathering. One particularly disturbing portion of the exercise covers civil support operations, including riot control and the detention of prisoners on behalf of local police. Alaska Army National Guard Soldiers assist Anchorage Police to “calm or detain rioters” who hold signs that read “Food now!” and are congregating in a mock town. Soldiers wrestle the “rioters” to the ground in joint operations with civilian police officers. Some of the less compliant “rioters” are ultimately carried away by groups of soldiers and local police. The National Guard describes these activities more broadly in one the photos as “interacting downtown with civilians in the aftermath of a simulated major earthquake”.
In one photo, soldiers line up along a fence outside of a local prison with plastic riot handcuffs to “simulate assisting local authorities to transfer prisoners to the correctional facility due to any type of emergency”. In some portions of the exercises, individuals being detained are referred to as “insurgents” that have entered “within the secured perimeter at mock Forward Operating Base Mad Bull”. Several of the “insurgents” are even pictured in uniform, rather than traditional mock protester apparel.
Soldiers were also trained in non-lethal target practice, and entry control point and convoy operations. These facts are particularly distressing in light of the fact that the Vigilant Guard exercise series is aimed at purely domestic applications. Though National Guard personnel are often deployed into combat situations overseas, the Vigilant Guard exercise is designed to focus on aspects of emergency response that are local in nature. A press release from the 2007 Vigilant Guard exercise describes its intent as testing “the National Guard as the first military responder in support of the governor and the state emergency management agency”. The press release also notes that all “incidents are local”.
International delegates from Mongolia were also present at the exercise as observers. According to the National Guard, since 2003 Mongolia and Alaska have had a partnership regarding emergency preparedness activities and since 2006 they have both participated in Khaan Quest, a combined joint training exercise designed to strengthen the capabilities of U.S. and Mongolian Armed forces in “international peace support operations worldwide”.