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As the late winter sun rises over still-frozen Alaskan tundra in the early morning hours last Thursday, the growing roar of motors can be heard building in the distance. Soon, over the horizon, a line of vehicles comes into view. Soon snowy tranquility is replaced with a flurry of activity and sound.
The US military has come to town.
Welcome to Alaska Shield/Vigilant Guard
Last week, the 207th Brigade Support company began their 2014 Alaska Shield/Vigilant Guard military exercises just outside Fairbanks. The company’s objective during the statewide exercise was to establish an Alaska forward medical station that could be used to treat civilian casualties in the wake of a simulated major disaster, such as the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that devastated this area in 1964.
As members of the 207th use forklifts, transport trucks and other vehicles to move supplies and equipment into position, Staff Sgt. David Gulley explained the importance of such drills.
“It’s testing our readiness and availability of our soldiers and how quick we can respond to a natural disaster,” Gulley told Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System, a military-centric website.
Practice Makes Perfect
Throughout the year, the company drills incessantly in transporting supplies and equipment where they are needed so they can be ready at a moment’s notice to move anywhere in the world in response to similar emergencies and other dangerous events.
Then, every year the men and women of the 207th participate in annual exercises just like this one so that they can perfect their response time and be ready to perform optimally in real-world scenarios.
According to the official document issued by the US Department of Homeland Security, the objective of Alaska Shield/Vigilant Guard is to respond to “medical surge, mass casualty, mass care, activation of 2011 State EOP Catastrophic Annex task forces, and executive leadership.”
But the soldiers of the 207th don’t need the military language of a Pentagon white paper to tell them what’s its’ really about: Helping their friends and neighbors at a time they need it most.
Creating a Coordinated Response
As members of the company work quickly yet efficiently to set up the medical facility on the grounds of the Palmer Fairgrounds in a field outside Fairbanks proper, other military personnel around the state — as well as national, state and local agencies — play their own role in responding to the simulated disaster scenario.
Understanding how each agency interacts with each other is one of the most important parts of the exercise, according to Sgt. Geoffrey Hansen, one of the 207th’s participants. Creating a united, coordinated response is the best option for dealing with a situation in which there is the potential for massive civilian casualties, property damage and ongoing critical dangers.
“As a National Guard, I believe that’s what we should be doing,” Hansen said.
“We do the work for the state so we should be working with civilian agencies.”
With forklift engines revving to full speed and vehicles and personnel moving in every direction simultaneously, Gulley stopped a moment to take it all in.
“This is as close to real-world as you can get,” he said. “With the other agencies and our soldiers interacting with them, I think this is the best type of training we can get.”