US Army, February 16, 2018 - GULFPORT, MS by Staff Sgt Wendy Kuhn - According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the U.S. experienced a historic year in terms of natural disasters in 2017.
A natural disaster can strike any time and in any area within the nation. To prepare for this reality, about 1,000 personnel from federal, state and local entities assembled Feb. 12-15, 2018, for a Domestic Operations (DOMOPS) training exercise sponsored by the National Guard Bureau (NGB) at the Combined Arms Combat Training Facility (CACTF) at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, with some operations taking place at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center (CRTC), Mississippi.
The exercise, referred to as PATRIOT South 2018, focused on increasing the ability of local, state and federal organizations to coordinate and work together in response to a natural or man-made emergency. PATRIOT South 2018 tested the combined entities' abilities to respond during natural disasters using simulated emergency scenarios.
“It's a critical integration of our civilian and military entities to help save lives on the home front in response to a domestic, natural disaster or a man-made disaster,” said Lt. Col. Ashley Nickloes, deputy director for PATRIOT South 2018.
The exercise allowed National Guard members who normally work on wartime tasks to receive critical training working on domestic operations tasks. Additionally, Guard members gained experience working side-by-side with various civilian and state entities.
“We work with the civilians on a disaster response at all levels, so it's imperative we work together with them instead of trying to be two entities,” Nickloes said. “Otherwise we won't become a synergistic force and really help people in the United States in an emergency response.”
The simulated disaster for this year's exercise was an earthquake scenario, since Mississippi is within close proximity to the New Madrid Seismic Zone.
“(We) set up venues at Camp Shelby that (simulated) collapsed structures and victims within those collapsed structures,” said Lt. Col. Roger Brooks, director for PATRIOT South 2018.
Representation for this year's PATRIOT South exercise came from over a dozen states, which included around 50 units from both the Air and Army National Guard, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security and the South Carolina Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (HART).
Senior Airman Angelica Midgley, of the 154th Wing Security Forces Squadron from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, was a participant in the exercise.
“I think being in an environment outside Hawaii and on a different training ground (provided) more of a realistic scenario because it's not an environment our NCOs (noncommissioned officers) or Airmen are used to,” Midgley said. “In Mississippi, we are able to challenge ourselves in different conditions. (I was) really excited for it.”