Kentucky Air Guard supports statewide pandemic exercise
By Maj. Dale Greer, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs Officer
/ Published August 07, 2009
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- National Guard officials stood up a joint task force command center here Aug. 3 in support of the largest disaster-response exercise in state history.
Staffed by about 40 Airmen and Soldiers from the Louisville-based 123rd Airlift Wing and a variety of Army National Guard units across Kentucky, the command center was charged with coordinating the activities of troops in a 30-county area of responsibility known as Joint Task Force Cardinal.
The exercise itself was designed to test the Guard's response to an Avian Flu pandemic that quickly spread across the Commonwealth, leading to mass quarantines, thousands of deaths and widespread civic unrest, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kraus, Kentucky's assistant adjutant general for Air and commander of Task Force Cardinal.
Notionally, more than 2,700 Soldiers and Airmen were assigned to the task force, which included the full assets of the 123rd Airlift Wing as well as the Army Guard's 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade, 1204th Aviation Support Battalion and 198th Military Police Battalion.
Command center officials primarily were tasked with responding to requests for help from civil authorities. Guard missions included direct support of local health departments and law-enforcement agencies, as well crowd control and mortuary operations. Guardsmen also provided real-world airlift capabilities and simulated support to civil authorities to maintain essential public services and critical commercial activities as directed by the governor.
Although many of the Guard's responses were largely academic, with no actual troop movements taking place, General Kraus said the exercise was invaluable for the opportunity it provided to develop stronger working relationships between the Air and Army Guard, as well as with civilian law-enforcement agencies, first-responders and emergency managers across Kentucky.
"These kinds of relationships will pay off in a big way the next time the Guard is called upon to provide support for disaster-response, homeland-security or homeland-defense missions," he said.
The same benefits were reaped in other regions of the state, too, officials said. Joint Task Force Cardinal was just one piece of a much larger exercise involving Guard units, state emergency-management officials and local government agencies from Paducah to Pikeville. The two primary hubs of operation were located at the Commonwealth Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort, Ky., and the National Incident Management System Center in Somerset, Ky.
Brig. Gen. John W. Heltzel, director of the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, called the exercise unprecedented, both in terms of its scale and value.
"This exercise presents an opportunity the Commonwealth has never seen before, with all levels of participation to include government, the private sector and our National Guard," he said.
"The exercise has been planned for quite some time, but with the H1N1 virus that is now circulating, the timing could not have been better. We will take lessons learned from this exercise and be better prepared in the event we do face a pandemic in the future."
The exercise, which ended Aug. 7, also included a terrorist scenario in which a sniper attacked a college campus and detonated a radiological "dirty" bomb in Midway, Ky.
Air Guard troops supported that scenario by setting up a portable patient decontamination system at Woodford Memorial Hospital, said Maj. Brian McMorrow, medical administration officer for the 123rd Medical Group.
Thirteen Kentucky Airmen processed wounded victims through the facility by removing all forms of chemical, biological and radiological contamination before admitting them to the hospital for medical care.
"This is the first time we've used the system in a field environment, and everything went very smoothly," Major McMorrow said. "I think everyone now has an excellent grasp of what to expect in an operational setting."
Kentucky Air Guard personnel also established command and control of military air traffic at Capital City Airport in Frankfort, where troops assigned to the 123rd Contingency Response Group directed helicopter airlift missions into and out of the airfield, General Kraus said.
Other Air Guard troops met with county government officials across the state to assess potential support needs in the event of a real-world disaster and explain what kinds of resources the Guard could bring to bear.
Col. Mitch Perry, director of Air staff in Joint Forces Headquarters, was among the Airmen who conducted the visits, meeting with 16 circuit judges representing 29 counties. Additional Airmen visited county judge executives, emergency managers and first-responders in Bullitt, Henry and Spencer counties, General Kraus said.