Soldiers Practice Disaster Response Skills at Guardian Response Exercise


Smoking buildings lay ruined. Debris and clothing are scattered across the landscape. Vehicles, some tipped topsy-turvy, are strewn along roads and paths. Human cries for help can be heard, calling out for someone to save them.

Soldiers stand by a medical evacuation helicopter.
Fort Bliss, Texas-based soldiers with the 1st Armored Division’s 2-501st General Support Aviation Battalion conduct preflight checks on their HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter during Guardian Response 18 at Camp Atterbury, Ind., April 18, 2018. More than 4,500 soldiers from across the country are participating in Guardian Response 18, a multi-component training exercise designed to validate Army units’ ability to support civil authorities in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear catastrophe. Army Reserve photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Sofia
Soldiers stand by a medical evacuation helicopter. 180418-A-LI523-756
Fort Bliss, Texas-based soldiers with the 1st Armored Division’s 2-501st General Support Aviation Battalion conduct preflight checks on their HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter during Guardian Response 18 at Camp Atterbury, Ind., April 18, 2018. More than 4,500 soldiers from across the country are participating in Guardian Response 18, a multi-component training exercise designed to validate Army units’ ability to support civil authorities in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear catastrophe. Army Reserve photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Sofia

Skyward, the distant beating of rotor blades indicates that rescue helicopters are on the way.

Fortunately, this is only a training scenario as part of the U.S. Northern Command-hosted Guardian Response 18 exercise, which takes place here through April 30. The center is located southeast of Camp Atterbury, Indiana, its sister training facility.

Fort Bliss, Texas-based soldiers from Charlie Company, 2-501st "Desert Knights" General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Armored Division, soar in on HH-60M Black Hawk helicopters. They are here to train to validate their ability to assist with defense support of civil authorities in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear catastrophe.

Leaders say this training is all about saving lives and preventing suffering.

“Normally, at Fort Bliss, Texas, we train for a decisive-action fight, for the next conflict, the next war. It is very different,” said Army Capt. Nicholas Schaefer, Charlie Company’s commander.

Different Kind of Training

The Guardian Response exercise “is different because we’re supporting the home front,” Schaefer said.

A helicopter flies through blue sky.
An HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter flown by soldiers with the 1st Armored Division’s 2-501st General Support Aviation Battalion based at Fort Bliss, Texas, soar above the landing zone during Guardian Response 18 at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Ind., April 20, 2018. Army Reserve photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Sofia
A helicopter flies through blue sky. 180420-A-LI523-076
An HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter flown by soldiers with the 1st Armored Division’s 2-501st General Support Aviation Battalion based at Fort Bliss, Texas, soar above the landing zone during Guardian Response 18 at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Ind., April 20, 2018. Army Reserve photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Sofia

During this exercise, flying into an urban setting offers new challenges, he said. There are power lines. Debris or trash on the ground can get kicked up into the helicopter’s rotors. Crowds of people rushing toward helicopters is also a huge concern for crew chiefs and flight medics.

“There are a lot more dynamics in an urban environment,” Shaefer said. “We really have to be on our game when landing and departing from an environment like Muscatatuck.”

In the scenario, there’s a blast and radioactive plume with a trail of damage. The soldiers and their helicopters are placed outside of that plume, upwind and away from a nuclear blast at a safe airfield. They provide external support for displaced civilians, aid the injured, assist medical sites on the ground and evacuate patients and casualties.

The helicopters basically function as airborne emergency rooms capable of transporting six litter or six ambulatory patients or a mix of both.

Flight crews will have the opportunity to train on the latest high-tech medical gear called Medical Ultra Wideband Broadcast, or MEDHUB. It is a hands-free system that uses Bluetooth technology to capture data, including patient information, inventory and arrival times.

Normally, when treating patients on the front line, medics often must transcribe patient information on cards or memorize the data. The new technology will help speed up the process and inform the receiving hospital physicians on the patients’ status before they arrive.

“They will be better able to make decisions for the patient based on all of this data being transmitted,” said Army Staff Sgt. Spencer Anderson, a crew chief with Charlie Company. “Not only that, but the information will travel all the way up to division level almost in real time as it updates every two minutes.”