By Master Sgt. Matt McCoy, 184th Public Affairs
The 184th Intelligence Wing, Kansas Air National Guard, sent quick-reaction forces to assist local emergency responders in Cheney, Kansas, after an early morning 4.0 magnitude earthquake, June 7. Cheney is located about an hour west of Wichita and has a population of 2,165. The Kansas Air National Guard was asked to provide communication support, debris clearing, security, hazardous chemical clean-up, a mobile emergency operations center, and a mobile kitchen for the community.
“The 184th will provide whatever assistance the citizens of Cheney need,” said Col. Joseph Jabara, commander, 184th IW. “Our Airmen are on the ground now assisting the local fire and law enforcement responders and will continue throughout the next 72 hours.”
Fortunately, this was only an exercise.
As Exercise Servant Guardian kicked off Thursday morning, the Wing Operations Center at McConnell Air Force Base recalled key personnel to man communication lines and provide updates to commanders and top-level officials. Those updates included damage assessments, security flaws, injury reports and infrastructure needs, such as electrical power and communications capabilities.
Upon the request of local officials and Kansas Emergency Management personnel, the officer in charge of the WOC, Col. Jason Knobbe, mobilized small quick-reaction forces to the area and readied a large force of nearly 250 Airmen to roll out the next morning.
The Air Guardsmen were deployed to the Sedgwick County Fairgrounds from June 8-10.
Boots on ground
Airmen left McConnell Air Force Base in 30-minute intervals on buses containing two teams of about 20 Airmen each led by troop commanders and alternate commanders.
“We had to decentralize this,” said Lt. Col. Deb Balentine, commander, 184th Force Support Squadron. “We couldn’t come out to the fairgrounds with 250 people and try to run around, so we came up with the troop commander concept.”
Balentine served as the lead coordinator for Exercise Servant Guardian and oversaw preparations during the one-year planning process.
The Airmen were taken to Cheney Middle School, where a Personnel Support for Contingency Operations team checked them in, gave them a mission and safety briefing, and assigned cots for sleeping quarters in the school’s gym.
The Airmen were then transported to the fairgrounds and immediately got to work.
“The real focus of the exercise is to generate camaraderie and inner-workings between our Airmen while conducting the domestic operations exercise,” said Balentine.
Practice like you play
The 184th Security Forces Squadron was among the first groups to arrive. They maintained 24-hour operations while assisting local law enforcement agencies.
“Our role is to provide perimeter security for the affected area,” said Master Sgt. Justin Bahner, squad leader, 184th SFS. “We’re also considered a quick-reaction force for any security discrepancies within the area.”
In a disaster response operation, Security Forces are responsible for enforcing laws and curfews, preventing looting, and detaining lawbreakers when the situation calls for it. However, local law enforcement agencies are in charge of the town’s overall safety, and Security Forces augment those agencies.
“We are the security here,” said Bahner. “If anything happens with a civilian, we only detain the civilian and hand them off to the local law enforcement. There’s Cheney Police Department that is tied in with the MEOC (Mobile Emergency Operations Center) and if we need them, they’ll be dispatched to our location and that’s where we’ll hand them off.”
Other vital components at the exercise included emergency management, medical personnel, chaplains, safety officials and civil engineers.
“My role is to clean up a lot of the brush and debris that scattered throughout,” said Senior Airman Carl Hayter-Sirls, pavement and construction equipment, 184th Civil Engineer Squadron.
The 184th Civil Engineer Squadron brought heavy construction equipment in response to a debris clearing scenario. They mostly worked at the green dump site, where residents take tree branches and compostable material. The Civil Engineers practiced using equipment to pick up the debris and dispose of it using an industrial chipper shredder.
“The main benefit [of the exercise] is preparing us and the community in the event that anything does happen,” said Hayter-Sirls. “It shows the community that we’re here for you guys and that you guys can trust us.”
Clearing debris was one of a few service projects that offered real-world experience while providing value to the community.
In an actual disaster, the Air National Guard may be called upon to clean up a town, especially when debris is blocking emergency crews from entering streets.
To mimic that value, the exercise included community service projects that supported volunteer workers who take care of the Sedgwick County Fairgrounds.
“We reached out to them and asked, ‘What can we do?’” said Balentine. “They pointed us to their bleachers and they gave us all the supplies. We painted all the bleachers around the rodeo arena this weekend. We replaced the seating on a 40-foot by 30-foot bleacher set, and did piecemeal repair of new boards and painting on the bleachers surrounding the ball field.”
In Fighting Jayhawk fashion, Airmen went above and beyond the original requests. They swept dirt and leaves from various locations, pulled weeds and cleaned off everything they came across.
“They’re one month away from the Sedgwick County Fair happening here, so our timing is great to get all of that prepared,” said Balentine.
As Airmen were performing tasks like building tents, community service projects and setting up vital equipment, small scenarios called injects would take place. The injects tested the skills and job knowledge of the Airmen deployed to the disaster.
Security Forces encountered many injects that tested their security postures, response times and minimal use of force practices. Personnel responded to abductions, physical altercations, violent outbursts, trespassing and other situations.
Medical and chaplain personnel were also tested. They responded to mass casualty situations that required triage and treatment. Physical and mental injuries were also included in the scenarios, giving the personnel experience in how to respond to various situations.
“Part of the time we work alongside of medical professionals,” said Staff Sgt. Crystal Satrom, religious affairs, 184th Chaplains Office. “There have been troops that have struggled and maybe haven’t been able to perform their job well, and we’ve gone over and done some crisis intervention counseling with them.”
One of the bigger injects that occurred was a chemical spill at the railroad tracks. Responding emergency crews included the Cheney Fire Department, Cheney Police Department, ANG emergency managers and medical personnel.
“I think it’s great. It’s a chance for us to practice our jobs,” said Satrom.
The 250 participants completed multiple tasks in the Kansas heat, maintained high spirits and left the fairgrounds in better shape than they found them, all while encountering 32 injects without injury.
“I think the event was a success,” said Balentine. “It’s a wonderful thing that we’re not walking away here with someone seriously injured. In my mind’s eye, that is the number one success on our part.”
In terms of camaraderie and morale, the mixture of personnel in the chalks added to the success.
“When we built the chalks, we intentionally mixed people from different squadrons,” said Maj. Penny Jamvold, commander, 184th Logistics Readiness Squadron and assistant coordinator for the exercise.
“I’ve heard so many people say, they have met people that they should’ve known. They have so many friends in common, or have these mission things in common and they never even knew each other. That’s awesome,” said Jamvold.