MARTINSBURG, W.Va. --
They changed the tires on their equipment trailer, prepped their communication devices, loaded their Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) kits and headed south from Martinsburg to Charleston, W.Va. for Vigilant Guard 2021.
Vigilant Guard is an annual large-scale disaster response exercise sponsored by U.S. Northern Command in conjunction with the National Guard Bureau, with support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This year West Virginia hosted the event.
167th Airlift Wing fire fighters, Tech. Sgt. Robert Laidlow, Staff Sgt. Mitch Alerding, Staff Sgt. Jared Feaster and Staff Sgt. Jeff Powers prepared for and responded to Vigilant Guard as if it were a real-world event.
“We’re trying to improve our capabilities as far as responding to natural disasters within the state and within the region,” said Master Sgt. Christopher Taylor, 167th Civil Engineering Squadron fire chief.
The 167th Fire Department’s primary mission is to support aircraft operations at Shepherd Field and they also provide mutual aid response to off-base emergencies.
“Vigilant Guard is a starting point for us. We’re testing our capabilities, testing our equipment and seeing where we’re at,” Taylor said.
The exercise scenario, a stalled hurricane hovering over West Virginia, provided an opportunity for the 167th fire fighters to join with their 130th Airlift Wing and 178th Wing counterparts to hone their skills in structural collapse, vehicle extraction, high angle rope rescue, surface water rescue and swift water rescue. They also watched demonstrations on how to care for animals impacted by flood waters.
“Vigilant Guard offers the whole start to finish aspect,” said Tech. Sgt. Laidlow. “My team got do things we’ve never done before. It was a great week of training.”
According to Laidlow, Vigilant Guard enabled his team to exercise everything from the initial notification, logistics, and communications, to the skill sharpening and finally reconstitution where they inventoried equipment and sought funding avenues to replace lost or broken equipment and used supplies.
Following Vigilant Guard, the next steps for the 167th’s US&R program are to obtain additional certifications and acquire essential equipment so the program can reach its full potential, Taylor said.