Soldiers currently en route to Fort Bragg will take part in a military exercise to respond to domestic emergencies that involve: chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive emergencies.
Over the next week the soldiers from around the country will head towards Jacksonville, Florida to take part in the surprise exercise, which most were not told about until now.
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With these ‘surprise’ exercises and Jade Helm 15 recently – is there more to these drills than we’re being told? We’ll keep you updated.
Col. Jayson C. Gilberti, who is leading a task force that includes soldiers from Fort Bragg, Georgia and Texas, said it was important for the soldiers to be prepared to work together in a complex environment and to be mentally prepared to help their suffering countrymen if needed.
“You can never be ready enough,” said Gilberti, who commands the 20th Engineer Brigade at Fort Bragg. “It’s about Americans helping Americans at the end of the day. We’re one team.”
In all, nearly 750 soldiers are participating in the emergency deployment readiness exercise, or EDRE. The exercise is aimed at honing the skills of the Defense CBRNE Reactionary Force, or DCRF, which is tasked with responding to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive emergencies anywhere in the United States.
Most of the soldiers will come from the 20th Engineer Brigade. Others are from medical, signal and CBRNE units.
The Fort Bragg forces will convoy south on Interstate 95 for about 400 miles. They will be joined along the way by troops from Fort Stewart and Fort Gordon in Georgia and Fort Hood in Texas.
Their destination is Camp Blanding, Florida, south of Jacksonville, where they will conduct several days of training meant to mimic the aftermath of a devastating earthquake.
According to officials, the scenario comes in the wake of a 7.1 magnitude quake that hit Jacksonville and caused a radiation leak at the nearby Vandelay Nuclear Reactor in Starke, Florida. More than 23,000 people were displaced and 150 killed in the disaster.
The soldiers, working with civilian agencies and local law enforcement, will conduct search-and-rescue missions to find more than 1,000 missing persons. They also will help with decontamination and support civilian authorities.
Gilberti said the mission drew some parallels to his last domestic deployment, which took place nearly 10 years ago.
In 2005, while he was with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 307th Engineer Battalion, Gilberti deployed to New Orleans to support search-and-rescue operations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Lessons learned from that response, as well as rescue attempts in New York after Sept. 11, now fuel training for the DCRF mission, he said.
“It’s demanding,” Gilberti said of such a mission. “It’s harder when you see your fellow Americans.”
Fort Bragg soldiers were alerted at 3 a.m. Friday.
By 5 a.m., soldiers from Fort Bragg’s 20th Engineer Brigade were in formation in their motor pool, receiving instructions from their leaders. Over the next few hours, they would gather the equipment, vehicles and supplies needed for the trek to Florida and ensuing mission.
“We’ve been practicing and prepping for this for a couple months,” said Sgt. Angela Cavallo, the senior brigade medic.
Cavallo said the brigade was busy preparing, but it was smooth sailing so far.
Other Fort Bragg units involved in the training are the 330th Transportation Battalion, which is providing movement control teams to aid the convoy, and the 44th Medical Brigade, which will be on high alert but will remain at Fort Bragg.
The 20th Engineer Brigade’s higher headquarters, the 18th Airborne Corps, is overseeing the deployment of forces from Fort Bragg, Georgia and Texas.
Speaking as his convoy was being inspected at the Installation Transportation Deployment Support Area, Gilberti said the deployment exercise was the fourth the unit had conducted since March, when it took on the DCRF mission.
He said the realistic deployment was necessary to prepare troops to go anywhere in the country.
Gilberti said soldiers would only respond to a disaster if requested by civilian authorities in times of emergency. They must be prepared for nearly any scenario, from earthquakes to hurricanes to terrorist attacks.
“The mission is as serious as any other,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s about people. it’s about saving lives.”