Marines, civilians work together during regional exercise

4 Jun 2000 | Cpl. Zachary Crawford

A Southwest Asia country known to be a state supporter of international terrorist groups received convincing intelligence in February that the United States began preparations to launch a major attack against it. In May, the stage was set for retaliation and a third wave of attacks against local Eastern North Carolina schools, post offices and other key infrastructure involving various weapons of mass destruction was launched.

This scenario set the stage for this year's Domestic Preparedness Training Exercise -- 'Regional Response 2002.'

Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune hosted the three-day event that began Friday with sponsorship and coordination from Onslow County's Military-Civilian Task Force for Emergency Response and Coastal Carolina Community College here.

According to Lori Brill, the county's special project officer, Onslow joined nine others in Eastern North Carolina for the exercise aimed at fostering coordination and domestic preparedness among rural counties to improve a regional disaster joint response.

Nearly 1,000 emergency service responders and than 75 different military and civilian agencies from within the ten counties participated in the exercise.

The majority of the exercise was held and performed at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain facility here. In addition to possible terrorist attacks, the training exercises at the MOUT included a post office bio-terrorism event, a water rescue and various fire-training drills. Nearly 200 role-players, mostly Marines, tested the response capabilities and acted out being decontaminated, triaged, counseled and contained.

Brill said there are many reasons the counties and military organizations practiced these types of things.

"The best thing about this kind of training is that we can get all of these different organizations together in one place. We can then learn from each other other's abilities and specialties, and build that level of trust that we would need if we had to do this in a real-world situation," she said. "Another good reason for doing this training is because these organizations can fulfill most of their annual training requirements. We have estimated these groups save at least $93,000 in training costs while participating in this exercise."

Other local participating officials said this type of training benefits them as well.

Doug Bass of Onslow County Emergency Services said the events allow people to learn from their miscues.

"Even though we are emphasizing the importance of having these military and civilian emergency responders, hospitals and public safety workers work together under a controlled environment, we want them to know that it's alright if they make mistakes," Bass said. "We want them to be able to make mistakes while participating in operations so they can learn ... and give us guidance on our future planning and procedures."

According to Brill, the exercise wouldn't have been the same without the military resources.

"The military's involvement in this exercise is extremely important and we couldn't have done it with out their help," she said. "They have some of the best resources that the civilian sector doesn't. There have been several real-world situations in which the military has helped the community out when they needed it."

One Marine Corps representative said the training should be an eye opener for civilians and military members.

"A lot of people don'0t realize that at least 70 percent of the married Marines live in the counties, cities and small towns around Camp Lejeune. The commanding general of this base has the responsibility of ensuring the safety, health and well-being of the Marines, their families and the civilian employees of the base and their families," said Col. Mark Goodman, the assistant chief of staff for the base's Instillation Safety and Security Department.

"By working with the surrounding communities to create a regional response capability for man made or natural disasters, we can enhance survivability and improve the force protection of these individuals. We have to make this a 'seamless' system so when something really does happen, you can work with either civilian or military organizations to get the job done and complete the mission. Those military commanders that don't see the importance of working together with the community have no idea about the changing demographics of the area. We can no longer consider Camp Lejeune as an island. We are part of a greater community."