Grayling, Mich. –
An emergency call rang loudly inside the Grayling Army Airfield tower as the room immediately grew quiet.
“Tower, this is pad number one. We have an emergency,” said the voice. “A fire started during refueling operations. Request emergency services. Over.”
The time was 1802 military time, or 6:02 p.m.
The Northern Strike Pre-Accident Plan Rehearsal is designed to challenge exercise participants with a simulated emergency situation. Soldiers from the active Army, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserves teamed with local first responders to react quickly to the emergency fire scenario.
As tower personnel relayed the message utilizing a special crash phone to the Crawford County Dispatch and Camp Grayling Range Control, exercise evaluators observed how participants responded. Specifically, they took note of the words used and the amount of time between the initial alert, the relayed call and the arrival of first responders.
“In the Army, it’s important to train for the worst-case-scenario,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steven Chetcuti, commander, 3rd Battalion, 58th Aviation Regiment, Airfield Operations Battalion (3-58 AOB). “The worst case here at the airfield would be an aircraft accident or incident, particularly at the forward arming and refueling point where there are plenty of aircraft moving around, personnel and fuel.”
“Exercise, exercise, exercise,” relayed U.S. Army Spc. Theophilus Okrah, 3-58 AOB. “Civilian emergency. One aircraft. Pad number one located at departure runway 32. Time: 1802.”
Every Army unit is assigned a specific mission essential task list (METL), based on the function and responsibility of each unit, whether infantry, Army aviation, cavalry and so on. The pre-accident rehearsal enabled each participating unit to train many of those functions.
Primary rehearsal tasks included forward arming and refueling point emergency operations, crash rescue operations, mutual aid operations and emergency management operations, as well as other battle drills. Additionally, multiple subtasks must be completed in order to fully validate each primary task.
“We were able to validate five of our unit’s six mission essential tasks,” shared Chetcuti.
The pre-accident rehearsal also enabled several military units to work together in response to the simulated emergency, a unique experience for Chetcuti’s active duty unit.
The Fort Bragg-based 3-58 AOB was joined by the 1442nd Firefighter Team, Michigan National Guard, the 1-230th Assault Helicopter Battalion, Tennessee National Guard, and the 164th Theater Airfield Operations Group, an active-duty Army unit based in Alabama.
“We have two personnel with mild burns,” voiced personnel from pad number one to the tower.
This information was quickly relayed to approaching emergency responders, including the Camp Grayling Fire Department, Grayling Army Airfield Fire Department and Grayling Public Safety, which were already en route within five minutes of receiving the first call from the tower.
Civilian partners also included personnel from the City of Grayling Fire Department and Police Department, Frederic Township Fire Department, Crawford County Emergency Management and the Crawford County Dispatch.
When an incident is larger in scale or severity, mutual aid agreements between adjacent communities allow more responders to readily assist. To simulate a larger emergency, exercise planners ensured Frederic Township firefighters were also dispatched to the airfield.
“Knowing how to interact with the military and the airfield itself is critical,” said Capt. Allen Ballard, public information officer, Frederic Township Fire Department. “If we understand the procedures necessary during a simulated exercise, this will help us respond more efficiently and effectively during a real-life event.”
Ballard shared that familiarization with military assets is essential because his department doesn’t normally work with that type of equipment or aircraft. The department’s vision is that coordination between civilian fire departments and the military will be an ongoing effort.
Frederic Township firefighters arrived at the airfield 14 minutes after the initial emergency call, once mutual aid was requested. The department is located 7.6 miles north of Grayling Army Airfield. Front gate personnel radioed the tower and routed the team to the simulated incident.
Mutual exchange of information was not limited to local emergency responders. Exercise planners made sure best practice exchange was at the heart of the exercise plan.
“We wanted to challenge exercise participants with a potential real-world emergency scenario,'' said rehearsal planner U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Lee Fuller, Northern Strike Plans Team, Michigan National Guard. ''We also ensured everyone had the chance to work with one another, share contact information and build real-world relationships.”
Some rehearsal participants interfaced with international partners currently training at Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center during exercise Northern Strike.
Northern Strike is Michigan's largest and longest exercise designed to validate readiness of the joint, reserve force. Held at the National All-Domain Warfighting Center from Aug. 6 - 20, 2022, this year's iteration features approximately 7,400 service members from multiple states, branches and partner countries.
“When we come to Grayling, we get more experience with the wildland side,” said rehearsal participant U.S Army Spc. Tom Kennedy, 1442nd Firefighter Team, Michigan National Guard. “It’s nice to train with everyone at Northern Strike and pick their brains. Some participants are international responders, so we get the added benefit of exchanging best practices from all over the world.”
“ENDEX, ENDEX, ENDEX,” tower personnel radioed to responders at the simulated fire site, indicating the end of the exercise. The time was 6:27 p.m.
After months of planning, with multiple civilian and military partners involved, 25 minutes elapsed from the start to finish of the exercise.
Immediately following the event, Fuller conducted an after action review, asking participants to consider ways to improve future rehearsals.
“Overall we’re happy with the response times and actions of all participants,” said Fuller. “But during an actual emergency situation, there is no room for error. For this reason, it makes sense for military and civilian counterparts to continue training together and improving our procedures.”