NEWS | July 27, 2016

Vigilant Guard 2016

By Spc. Avery Cunningham 172nd Public Affairs Detachment

After three years of planning the Vigilant Guard 2016 exercise began in earnest July 27, 2016 at the 158th Fighter Wing, Burlington International Airport, South Burlington, Vt. Service members received mock Strategic National Stockpile supplies to respond with medical counter measures during a simulated emergency. Dr. Harry L. Chen, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, U.S. Air Force Maj. General Steven Cray, Adjutant General, Vermont National Guard, and Christopher Herrick, the director of the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, spoke about the role of their respective organizations during the training and how that would transfer to a real-life disaster scenario. The event is a starting point of more to come during Vigilant Guard 2016.

"Vigilant Guard is a NORTHCOM (U.S. Northern Command) sponsored and funded, full-scale exercise that is designed to be at the maximum level or beyond the maximum level that a state's National Guard can handle in their Defense Support of Civil Authorities," said U.S. Army Capt. Konrad Stawicki, Deputy Directorate of Military Support, Joint Force Headquarters, Vermont National Guard.

The exercise is designed to practice responding to any emergency with everyone that would be involved.

"Vigilant Guard is emergency management training," said U.S. Army 1st Lt Axel Larson, Vigilant Guard Project Officer, Joint Training and Exercise, Joint Force Headquarters. "The nice thing about Vigilant Guard that makes it different from everything else is that it actually works with everybody from the men and women on the ground all the way up to the governor of Vermont."

Vigilant Guard has a training goal for everyone involved.

"The purpose of Vigilant Guard is to have a full-scale exercise that takes the entire staff of the State, the staff of the National Guard, and gets them to run through the planning for a large disaster such as an Irene sized disaster then it allows play down all the way to the first responder level," said Stawicki.

As they run through the event, the participants use the training to look at how to improve to prevent things from going wrong.

"A big part of Vigilant Guard is figuring out what's going to go wrong before it actually goes wrong," said Larson. "We looked at other Vigilant Guards, and we looked at what happened with Irene in Vermont to find out what we did wrong then and how we can fix it now."

"The best thing about this exercise is that it allows us to have all the areas for improvement, or our strengths, identified from a disaster the size of Irene without actually having a disaster," said Stawicki.

One of the improvements they're working on together this exercise is fine tuning cooperation between the different organizations.

"You don't exchange numbers at the emergency, everybody needs to know who they're going to talk to, who they're coordinating with, what equipment they're going to need and have everything set up before hand because that's how you can save lives during an emergency," said Larson.

This is all a part of the desired goal of the training.

"The ideal result of Vigilant Guard is to identify areas where we either have capability gaps or areas where we have to improve our planning or improve the amount of coordination and partnering we are doing," said Stawicki.

"That's really the biggest part of Vigilant Guard, coordination," said Larson. "There are a lot of individual units that know what they're doing, but they have to work together, and they have to be set up before hand so they can just step off for the event and be able to get right into emergency management."

This exercise is distinguished not only by its sheer size but by its uniqueness. It is the first exercise of its kind to be conducted in Vermont in recent history, and the whole process is done all together as it would be in a real-life situation.

"Usually with exercises based on funding, time constraints and planning, we have to separate those exercises out. We have to have a small exercise with first responders working together or we'll have a senior staff exercise," said Stawicki. "This exercise allows us to do both at the same time."

All of the work and effort put into this event will culminate in an excellent return for the people of Vermont, who will have a better-trained emergency response force that is always prepared to meet their needs.

"The Vigilant Guard scenario and disaster response exercise are going to be extremely beneficial to not only the state of Vermont and the Vermont National Guard, but also to all of our regional partners because it gives us an opportunity to come together and to actually work together," said Stawicki.