By Norman Shifflett | Fort Carson Public Affairs Office
Editor’s note: The following story is based on a simulated exercise, and all mention of casualties refers to the role-players who assisted in making the full-scale exercise training realistic. The purpose of the realistic scenarios is to allow Soldiers, first responders and other entities to work together to practice for possible real-life catastrophes.
FORT CARSON, Colo. — A call came across the radio alerting first responders of a downed aircraft in a Fort Carson training area. The call kicked off Fort Carson’s two-day full-scale exercise (FSE) July 14, dubbed Mountain Guardian 21.
Within minutes of receiving the call, fire and medical first responders with the Directorate of Emergency Services (DES), arrived at the scene of the crash and immediately began assessing the situation.
What they found were 38 role-players who had moulage, or fake wounds and blood, shouting in pain and horror trying to make the scenario as realistic as possible.
The role-players were given specific instructions on how to act based on their simulated wounds, such as being unable to walk or hear and pretending to be unconsciousness; the scenarios forced first responders to react accordingly, providing the necessary training benefits.
The emergency crews began yelling to the players who could walk to move out of the way of the simulated burning aircraft where a casualty collection point was established.
As the role-players arrived at the collection point, first responders began evaluating and treating the casualties. The wounded who could walk were asked to apply basic first aid, such as applying pressure to an open wound.
As firefighters were searching for casualties around the crash site, medical responders from Evans Army Community Hospital had to react to the growing number of casualties. The medical staff had to quickly decide where to send the wounded.
“We simulated a helicopter crash, and the casualties on that helicopter exceeded the capacity that we have at Evans Army Community Hospital,” said Col. Nate Springer, commander, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson. “It forces us to coordinate with hospitals in Colorado Springs.”
This year’s FSE was important to conduct, as last year’s event was cancelled due to COVID-19. FSEs serve to test emergency services on post with community partners to ensure the entities can coordinate smoothly with each other.
“The purpose of the exercise was to test Fort Carson capabilities to respond to and recover from an aircraft crash/mass casualty downrange, and also to respond to and recover from an installation breach and an occupation of a federal facility,” said Danny Shepherd, installation emergency manager, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security (DPTMS).
The exercise continued the next day, and Fort Carson law enforcement officers were challenged with an intruder who breached a federal facility, which became a simulated hostage situation at a location in the Fort Carson training area.
Patrol officers with the 759th Military Police Battalion responded and cordoned off the area before contacting the individuals inside the facility, which allowed the patrol officers to practice gathering information on the suspects.
DES set up an incident command post near the facility to direct resources and personnel.
Negotiations began between the suspects and the Criminal Investigation Command agents to first attempt a peaceful resolution to the standoff.
The scenario ended as the situation escalated after a “hostage” was assassinated, and the Fort Carson Special Reaction Team neutralized the remaining suspects.
“Every year we try to do an exercise to test our capabilities, push our capabilities past our limitations so we know where to improve,” said Capt. Brandon Graber, a Fort Carson police officer. “We evaluate our response; we evaluate our tactics and technical procedures and our coordination with local and outside agencies.”
While all the action on the ground was taking place for the two-day exercise, behind the scenes the Fort Carson Garrison Emergency Operation Center was working on gathering information, coordinating efforts and keeping the community informed.
Springer said a third of the personnel in the EOC were experiencing an FSE for the first time. Each day the EOC team members faced various challenges and were able to improve their operations and build upon their experiences for the next training event or real-world situation.
“When you think about all the directorates across Fort Carson and all of our community partners that we have to (coordinate) with, whether it’s the Colorado Springs Police Department or the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department or the FBI in town, it’s really important that we know who each other are, we see each other regularly and we train together regularly,” said Springer.