ARNORTH Personnel Train for Hurricane Response
SFC Wynn Hoke
RALEIGH, North Carolina – Army North’s Defense Coordinating Officer/Element (DCO/E) for the southeastern United States was put to the test Jan. 25-29 during a training exercise centered on hurricane response.
The DCO/E Region IV, named due to its alignment with FEMA’s Region IV, trained on assisting local, state, and federal civilian authorities following a simulated landfall of a category four hurricane on the Carolina coast.
In the scenario, several areas along the North Carolina coast were devastated by the storm and the notional governor requested federal and Department of Defense assistance to help with life-saving and life-sustaining operations to mitigate suffering in the storm-stricken areas.
The exercise, known as a CERTEX, was designed to certify and prepare the DCO/E for a potential deployment in real-world disaster situations. Region IV is comprised of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama, so the possibility of this DCO/E facing a similar scenario in the real world is very high.
“I want everyone involved to not only walk away with a better understanding of his/her job, but also gain a broader understanding of what Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA) entails and the various stakeholders in a given scenario,” said Col. John Thompson, the Defense Coordinating Officer for Region IV.
The CERTEX brought together more than 50 personnel from nine states plus Army North headquarters personnel from Fort Sam Houston to ensure the future success of the Region IV DCO/E as well as foster positive relationships between FEMA and the eight State Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers assigned to the eight states within Region IV.
“As natural disasters or man-made disasters become more complex and resources get constrained we need to come together as a collaborative group effort to provide the support necessary,” said Army Col. Jonathan Simmons, Alabama Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer. “We need to be able to provide the best assistance to American citizens.”
Army North’s Task Force 51 (TF-51) also deployed to North Carolina and trained on the same scenario less than a mile away from the DCO/E exercise. While the DCO/E Region IV personnel focused on being DoD’s “eyes and ears” in a multi-agency, civilian-led emergency operations center, Task Force 51 trained on serving as the forward command post for the Joint Forces Land Component Command (JFLCC-FWD). Similar to the DCO/E’s CERTEX, coordination with civilian officials was a critical component of TF-51’s exercise.
“This type of exercise allows us to build solid relationships with local, state and federal agencies and to better coordinate efforts” said Maj. David Briten, a TF-51 Liaison and Future Operations Planner. “It’s an opportunity to help Americans in the homeland.”
Staff Sgt. Michael Cucalon, an intelligence sergeant with Army North agreed, saying it is important to learn the different processes in training where the human lives in danger are only simulated.
“Each state does things differently, but we all have the same goal and that is to save lives,” said Cucalon. “I am proud to have this mission because I get to serve and help those in need, which could one day include my own friends and family”
Bringing the collective team together helped ensure everybody is on the same page “to practice standard operating procedures and other tactics and techniques,” said Col. Thompson. “This CERTEX allows the team to learn innovative ways to conduct DSCA, which can be a much nuanced mission.”
DCO/E Region IV certification will last the duration of Thompson’s tenure. When he moves on, the new Defense Coordinating Officer will have to recertify the DCO/E for Region IV.