JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
Alaska National Guard’s 103rd Civil Support Team, National Guard CST units from other states, and local and federal agencies participated in Van Winkle 2022, a biannual, all-hazards response exercise in Juneau, March 22-23.
National Guardsmen of the 14th CST of Connecticut, 47th CST of Mississippi, 42nd CST of North Carolina and the 83rd CST of Montana flew to the state capital to take part in the scenario-based exercise.
Designed to apply and test their knowledge, units practiced responding to various chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive events while coordinating with civilian assets and federal agencies, such as the Juneau fire department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The CBRNE scenarios included buildings of simulated chemical weapons labs and a staged plane crash contaminated by a radioactive source.
Lt. Col. Anthony Mortrud, commander of the 103rd CST, explained how Van Winkle increases the interoperability between Guardsmen and local first responders in the event of an actual CBRNE occurrence.
“It’s important that we build these working relationships now between the civilian agencies and ourselves,” said Mortrud. “So that when a real-world natural or man-made disaster does happen, we’re not fumbling through trying to establish how we are going to work together.”
A less visible component of the CBRNE response scenarios is the coordination between the agencies in developing uniformity in the unit’s techniques and procedures. Juneau, a relatively remote location for a large-scale exercise, helped demonstrate the importance of logistics and travel in every operation.
“We really want to speak the same language with our local partners so we are able to air load and fly people from anywhere in Alaska,” said Capt. Roger Tran, the nuclear medical science officer of the 103rd CST. “We need to be able to communicate efficiently, work with the same tools and the same standard operation procedures.”
Maj. Adam Karlin, the deputy commander of the 83rd CST of the Montana National Guard, echoed that sentiment and added that the exercise further enhances the ability of the different CSTs to work as a team despite their geographical location.
“We’re [the CST] a small community,” said Karlin. “Any chance we get to come out and work with our counterparts and other teams really sets the stage for when we go on actual missions.”
Staff Sgt. Jonathon Ramos, one of the section team leaders for the 103rd CST, coordinated the efforts of his team and the adjacent teams’ down-range operations. He spoke on how the different scenarios gave the CST members an opportunity to demonstrate their competency in the field.
“This exercise gives us a chance to flex our capabilities,” said Ramos. “We can see how it works in interagency operations and see the culmination of a year’s worth of training and preparing for this type of event. The Alaska National Guard being capable of operating with outside entities makes us a viable asset whenever large-scale events take place.”