By Sgt. Aimee Millham, USA
HEIDELBERG, Germany, Sept. 19, 2006 – Set in a banquet hall, Guardian Shield '06 was a far cry from the typical frenzy of emergency response exercises -- but that was exactly the point. "You don't want to be exchanging business cards in the middle of a mock crisis," said Ronnie Faircloth, acting director of the Combat Support Directorate of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Fort Belvoir, Va.
Guardian Shield, held Sept. 13-15, was a DTRA-sponsored and U.S. Army Europe-led exercise that provided a forum to evaluate the consequence-management resources of U.S. military units in Europe, said Bill Liles, joint planning group exercise planner with USAREUR plans and operations.
The table-top exercise involved an "anthrax attack" in the Benelux, a union of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. The mock attack gave USAREUR leaders a better understanding of the Benelux's host-nation capabilities and where support would be needed if a terrorist attack or major catastrophe were to occur.
"There are 92 countries in the (European Command area of operations), and USAREUR has to be prepared to support all of them," said Faircloth, whose organization created and developed Guardian Shield.
The exercise included a day of academics in which 110 attendees heard from various host-nation leaders from the Benelux and officials from U.S. embassies to the Netherlands and Belgium on how they use host-nation assets to deal with crises.
Other blocks of instruction included experts discussing weapons of mass destruction, and nuclear, biological and chemical warfare.
"Thinking of WMDs is sobering," said Col. Dean A. Nowowiejski, U.S. Army Garrison Benelux commander. "But we must be prepared for these things because they can get very complex, very quickly, with all of the agencies involved."
Such complexity was evident to participants when, on the exercise's second day, they were handed their scenario, divided into three cells and told to figure out how to quell the aftermath of an attack while properly employing all the key players.
"Elements of the Department of State, the host nation, the military -- they all do things differently," Faircloth said. "Exercises like these allow us to discuss those differences and get in sync."
While it was simply the Benelux's rotational turn at the exercise -- last year's Guardian Shield involved Germany -- the implications of its participation were significant.
The Benelux area has almost 11,000 troops and their family members, most of whom fall under the Benelux command, which has garrisons scattered across six countries -- a feeding ground for poor communication, Nowowiejski said.
"They have three AFN radio frequencies, and everyone there lives off post," Liles noted. "If you travel from one installation to the next, you have to switch to a different AFN channel."
Given this setup, exercise attendees identified dissemination of information to the public as a trouble spot, Liles said. "How would we inform all these families of where to go and what to do, while still minimizing panic?" he said.
As director of the exercise's second day, Army Brig. Gen. Yves Fontaine witnessed firsthand the discussions that brought these points to light. "They were sharing and discussing," said Fontaine, commander of USAREUR's logistics division, adding that it was interoperability at its best.
Among other things, being able to put faces to names made it a successful exercise for Nowowiejski -- who quoted Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, USAREUR operations director, as saying, "If you now know the face of the person on the other end of the phone line, you're successful."
Liles said a goal of Guardian Shield was being able to see how other countries operate. "While we expect U.S. assets to be strong enough to take care of everything, there are resources out there from host nations that are willing to help and get the job done," he said.
The exercise ended with an after-action review in which issues, such as the need for more secure communications in the Benelux, were addressed. Liles said these results are used by USAREUR's anti-terrorism division to make recommendations to USAREUR plans and operations on resources the command needs.
It's what happens after these exercises that gauges their success, Nowowiejski said.
(Army Sgt. Aimee Millham is assigned to U.S. Army, Europe Public Affairs.)