The ground rumbled beneath your feet. Dishes in the kitchen crashed on the floor and bookshelves toppled over. You gathered your family and hurried to safest location in the house. The wrenching tremor finally subsided and you took stock of the damage. You picked the television up off the floor, tried to turn it on, but realized the power was out. As you peered out the fractured window, telephone poles and trees laid across the street as though they were ejected from the ground. A deafening chorus of car alarms blared incessantly, nearly drowning out the cries of people calling out for help. You just experienced what Californians are all too aware of, an earthquake. No one knows when or where it will strike next, so emergency officials continually exercise their skills to ensure they are prepared to respond when strikes occur.
To prepare for such calamities, the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing and local emergency officials partnered to plan and execute Grizzly Field Exercise 2012, or GFX 12.
The scope of the exercise included a simulated earthquake in Southern California with damage to the infrastructure, numerous injuries, and some fatalities. The 163d RW engaged with its primary platform, the MQ-1 Predator, and was tasked with providing full motion video to the State Joint Operations Center, 234th Intelligence Squadron, Non-governmental agencies, Northern Command, and the 601st Air Operations Center in support of a search and rescue mission for possible survivors.
Col. Randall Ball, commander, 163d RW said, “It was extremely rewarding to see the integration of California Joint Operations Center into the Command and Control for interagency disaster response. This exercise established a baseline for further integration of civilian response agencies and through the use of two Predators, was able to establish a large full motion video footprint that was accessible by all military and civilian disaster relief communities.”
During spin-up of the exercise, the intensity of focus was easily observed in the Predator Operations Center (POC) at March Air Reserve Base Calif., as members of the 163d RW hovered over computer monitors and flight plans in final preparation for GFX 12.
The exercise highlighted the Remotely Piloted Aircraft capabilities in a domestic operation setting. These types of DOMOPS include search and rescue, counter-drug and border operations, disaster response and Department of Homeland Security support. The operation also showcased the benefits of the synergistic relationships between the Army National Guard, the Air National Guard, the State Military Reserve, and civilian agencies.
“At a federal level, we are always looking to use all assets available, the marriage between the different entities within each state pays dividends,” said Major Dawn Junk, Chief of Domestic Operations & Special Missions. “We need to constantly scan for all components available to make an operation of this scale a success.”
Two military members playing the role of ‘survivors’ were flown via helicopter to an Army training facility at Fort Irwin in Barstow Calif., where they were dropped off and told remain until rescued. Next, predator pilots based at March ARB, launched their aircraft via satellite, to the coordinates of the simulated earthquake area. The MQ-1, specially equipped for aerial reconnaissance, found their target, sent FMV back to the JOC and soon after, a rescue helicopter was dispatched to pick up the stranded survivors.
“The exercise was an overall success,” said Lt. Col. Keith Ward, commander, 163rd Operations Support Squadron. “A lot of planning and test runs preceded this exercise to help prepare us. I think all of our hard work has paid off. As with any exercise we have some good lessons learned that we can refine but the intent of the exercise was met with dazzling results.”
GFX 12 was the result of several months of preparation and practice. Earlier in the year the 163d RW participated in the Ardent Sentry exercise which also focused on defense support of civil entities during a crisis situation, culminating in the successful joint execution of GFX 12.
“Working with the Army National Guard and State Military Reserve personnel has been extremely helpful on the communications side,” said Tech. Sgt. Robert Davis, 163d RW network administrator and communications lead for GFX 12. “They bring capabilities and experience that have been invaluable to the success of GFX 12. RPA operation has a large communications piece and we have been prepping for the exercise for over a month and half. At every step of the way, the support we have received from our ARNG and SMR counterparts has been exceptional.”
These powerful platforms are the future. Remotely piloted aircraft are critical to our nation’s diverse missions overseas and their application as a viable tool in the disaster response realm on our own soil. With public safety and the safeguarding of civil liberties at the forefront of any RPA operation the National Guard is ready and proud to provide a unique capability to the state and the nation.