BUTLERVILLE, Ind. (WOOD) — Every second is critical when responding to an emergency, but those moments become even more precious during a mass threat to the U.S.
The Michigan Army National Guard joined soldiers from 40 different U.S. locations to participate in “Exercise Vibrant Response 18,” an operational and tactical scenario training strengthening their capabilities of responding to a nuclear attack.
Vibrant Response 18 is one of the largest confirmation exercises that the Department of Defense conducts for its specialized response forces, according to Michigan National Guard officials.
Soldiers were asked to react as if a 20-kiloton nuclear bomb exploded in Bothell, Washington – a suburb outside of Seattle.
“The current death toll – and it rose – it was reported today was 20,000 (people),” Col. Chris McKinney, Chief of Operations of the 46th Military Police Command, said.
The rising death toll was just one piece of the evolving puzzle.
A ballpark figure of 50,000 people needed treatment and there were only 6,000 hospital beds available in the Washington area. This is why the training is so key.
Inside of Camp Atterbury, members of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense unit worked out logistics for a safe and swift response for soldiers to assist in Washington.
The training included units from as far as South Carolina.
“There’s different challenges. Like, if I’ve got to get my unit to from Ft. Lauderdale to Seattle, how’s that going to go,” Major General Michael Stone said. “Is it going to be by flight? By ground? Driving is going to take days. The expectation of the American people is we’re going to be there immediately.”
While the comprehensive training leans heavily on logistics and helping soldiers get around mounting barriers, there was extremely important work also happening at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center (MUTC).
“They’re going to have to decontaminate them from a biological, radiological attack,” Capt. Evan Parker explained.
The operational crews focus on long and short-term danger that soldiers are up against when teams enter a radioactive area.
Responding crews have a lot of obstacles, including working in hazardous material gear.
“They know it’s not real, but it’s as real as it can get once you get in that suit and your breathing becomes difficult,” said Timmy Stampley one of the Urban Search and Rescue Evaluation analysts.
The soldiers worked on quickly setting up camps, limiting property damage and rescuing victims.
“Smoke is being added, debris, collapsed structures, and they have to negotiate all of those things in order to complete the mission,” Capt. Parker said.
While soldiers are working through the training, supervisors take a hands-off approach to guiding them through the scenario.
“If they are making minor mistakes with the victim, we point those out after the rescue is made,” Stampley told 24 Hour News 8. “We try to keep hands-off and let them execute it as though they would if we were invisible.”
Stampley’s notes are essential for the after-action report where officials review exercises and look for areas to improve.
“If they start doing things that are unsafe, we stop them immediately,” Stampley said.
The training happens every year.
The rope rescues, the death toll, and the group behind the attack are all fictitious. However, Stone says there’s been more attention recently on the reality of a nuclear threat.
He and other Michigan Army National Guard officials are confident they’re prepared.
“We’ve got specific mission sets that we’re designed to do, that we’re trained to do, for what I call America’s worst day,” said Stone.