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Vigilant Shield Takes Fight to New Mexico Mountains

By John Hamilton, White Sands Missile Range

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WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M., Nov. 3, 2017 — Shots rang out in a New Mexico canyon when soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division secured a simulated critical infrastructure facility from armed suspects during a training scenario here yesterday.

Soldiers on patrol.
Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division move through the mountains of New Mexico during the Vigilant Shield exercise at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., Nov. 2, 2017. Army photo by Jose Salazar
Soldiers on patrol. Advance up the hill
Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division move through the mountains of New Mexico during the Vigilant Shield exercise at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., Nov. 2, 2017. Army photo by Jose Salazar

The scenario is one of several the soldiers came here to take part in during Vigilant Shield 18, an exercise designed to practice the rapid deployment of a unit of soldiers to support local guards or police in protecting a critical infrastructure site.

Sponsored by U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the exercise saw the deployment of about 100 soldiers from Fort Drum, New York.

"We've got that 24 hour response time -- it doesn't matter that we're not an airborne unit. We're light infantry, we're a mountain division, and we can be anywhere in the world, and we've got to be ready for that," said Army Spc. Moses Negron, a rifle team leader with 10th Mountain Division, who deployed for the exercise.

The training event has included several scenarios to help prepare the soldiers for a possible mission that might require close cooperation with police, local special security guards and others who might not be familiar with military operations but need Army support.

Specialized Training Scenarios

The Vigilant Guard soldiers conducted security sweeps and patrols, set up observation points and ran through specialized training scenarios that represented possible real-world occurrences they might see on an infrastructure defense mission. Scenarios including suspicious persons, lost hunters, and guard shift changes were played out, giving the soldiers a chance to practice handling situations that could occur during a real domestic defense operation.

Mountains scenarios saw platoons retake a simulated facility from a group of violent disgruntled security forces. Soldiers and civilian guards faced off, fighting against each other using blank ammunition, making for an energetic engagement that gave the soldiers a chance to do detailed training on close-in combat in mountainous and urban terrain. Several White Sands guards played the roles of an opposing force of radicalized or disgruntled guards already inside the facility, requiring the soldiers to assault the facility and neutralize the threat.

Ground crew unloads transport airplane.
Ground support crew members unload a C-130 aircraft in support of exercise Vigilant Shield at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., Oct. 31, 2017. Army photo by Jose Salazar
Ground crew unloads transport airplane. Forklifter
Ground support crew members unload a C-130 aircraft in support of exercise Vigilant Shield at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., Oct. 31, 2017. Army photo by Jose Salazar

"Out here in the desert and mountains, we're really putting different parts of our training together, working in small groups and bigger group with the civilian guard forces. … Whether we're in the mountains or down in the valley, we're going to be ready," said Army Pfc. Daniel Chan, a machine gunner with the 10th Mountain Division.

The secure facility seized by the guards for the exercise scenario was represented by the Mountain Village test site here. Built as a test site for network integration evaluation, the site is composed of several buildings with an outer wall, making it a decent representation of a secure facility. Located in mountainous terrain nearly a mile above sea level, the site also gave the soldiers a chance to move around in terrain that's a bit different from what they are used to at Fort Drum.

"This is something that puts us into a new location, takes use out of cold, desolate Fort Drum and puts us in a new spot," said Army Capt. Andrew Boyle, commander of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry, 10th Mountain Division. "It allows the soldiers to train in a desert atmosphere and apply some of those battle drills in something different."

Security guard fires a rifle.
Lt. Gregory Cranmer, a supervisor security guard at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., opens fire on soldiers from 10th Mountain Division using blank ammunition during exercise Vigilant Shield, Nov. 2, 2017. The guards acted as an opposing force that had seized a key infrastructure facility. Army photo by John Hamilton
Security guard fires a rifle. Eat this
Lt. Gregory Cranmer, a supervisor security guard at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., opens fire on soldiers from 10th Mountain Division using blank ammunition during exercise Vigilant Shield, Nov. 2, 2017. The guards acted as an opposing force that had seized a key infrastructure facility. Army photo by John Hamilton

As a rapid deployment exercise, the event was put together in a rather short period of time, with White Sands Missile Range operations staffers coordinating daily with U.S. Army North's representatives. Further complicating matters was Army North's current real-world commitments to disaster relief missions in Houston and Puerto Rico. In the end, the teams were able to pull together and make the exercise happen.

"It wasn't easy," said Lea Jones, a White Sands Missile Range operations officer. "There were a lot of moving parts and the exercise plan changed many times, but it's great to see it all come together in the end and see the soldiers taking part in a successful exercise."

The 10th Mountain Division soldiers are expected to continue operating here until Nov. 9 and then to conduct additional training before returning to Fort Drum.
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