Fort Polk Community
Full-scale exercise tests response, coordination at JRTC, Fort Polk
Story by Patricia Dubiel on 06/28/2019
FORT POLK, La. When a community is affected by disaster, an effective and timely response speeds recovery, offers reassurance to those impacted by the crisis and hastens a return to normalcy. At Fort Polk, the Crisis Action Team, or CAT, consisting of civilians and major subordinate command Soldiers, was tested on its disaster response plans during a full-scale exercise held June 25-26.
The exercise scenario began at 5:38 a.m. June 25 with a report of a downed aircraft and 12 injured personnel at the Geronimo Drop Zone in the Joint Readiness Training Center training area.
This report prompted the activation of the CAT, who could not meet at the usual location (the emergency operations center in bldg 350) because of a notional fire that caused damaged to that facility. The CAT members set up shop at the Mission Training Center and began implementing their individual and team battle drills. As the situation “developed,” CAT members had to report their efforts, document their actions, answer requests for information and brief each other and the command at regular intervals to keep the flow of communication open.
The Red Cross used the 36-hour exercise to test their volunteer system as well, and Fort Polk’s casualty affairs worked with the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System and Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Division to exercise their interoperability.
Col. Ryan K. Roseberry, Fort Polk garrison commander, said the value of a full-scale exercise is in getting units and post agencies to communicate and work together.
“Each unit has its own mission and we’re all going in different directions throughout the regular work week,” he said.
“But when an event like this happens, be it a downed aircraft, tornado or other emergency, we have to be ready to stop what we’re doing, come together and respond to take care of our Soldiers and Families here on the installation. We’ve got to know immediately what to do.”
Roseberry said the exercise is only held annually, so it is important to take advantage of every moment.
“We don’t get the opportunity to do this often, so when we do have the chance, we need to take it seriously,” said Roseberry. “I hope the CAT team comes away from this exercise knowing exactly what to do to take care of their area and that they understand how important it is for the garrison to respond quickly and get life back to normal as soon as possible.”
Ken Lavalley, exercise director, said he hopes exercise participants use the event as an opportunity to build confidence in themselves as they see their battle drills at work, and to learn about what other entities have to do in a crisis.
“The tough part for an installation is synchronizing the assets and getting them to the right place at the right time,” he said. “Each CAT member plays an integral part in the operation. Each cell brings a special ability to the team.”
Mark Leslie, exercise lead, said full-scale exercises are usually held once a year, but exercises are held to some degree on a monthly basis to go over staff functions.
“This (event) was challenging because we had some conditions levied on us that replicated real life, such as working in multiple shifts over 24 hours and the environmental conditions (rain),” he said. “I think the installation did well overall with just a couple of areas we need to work on.”
Cooperation was one of the areas that needed “work,” according to Leslie.
“We knew (at the beginning) one of the challenges would be interoperability between the emergency operations center and the Emergency Family Assistance Center. Prior to this exercise, we looked at a couple of after action reviews from major disasters from across the Army, and one of the key elements for success was EFAC operations.”
The EFAC, which is managed by the Directorate of Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation, strengthened its capability to respond to a crisis during the exercise, said Leslie.
“While we know our directorate of emergency services can respond to any incident and mitigate risk and damage, the challenge is in the follow-on actions, which includes taking care of the Families of the Soldiers. The EFAC plays a big role in that. So the EOC and the EFAC need to be nested better so we’re a little more efficient,” said Leslie.
Brig. Gen. Patrick D. Frank, commanding general, JRTC and Fort Polk, said this kind of exercise is crucial to future mission success in the event of a crisis.
“It’s important to have that repetition (of exercise tasks) so if an emergency does happen, all the key leaders that have been associated with the exercise this week have a foundation in how we will approach that emergency,” he said.
“With all the activities that we do on post both in the box (JRTC training area) and in garrison this team is prepared for any emergency. This exercise has moved them one step closer to developing that proficiency.”
Lavalley said the annual exercise is not the only one Fort Polk conducts.
“This is the fourth one we’ve done this year, each with a different problem set that we believe we are most likely to encounter here at Fort Polk, and I have absolute, 100 percent confidence in the Fort Polk team’s ability to respond to any situation that may happen in our community,” he said. “And I think the community can share that confidence.”