Because ‘Always Ready, Always There’ doesn’t just happen

By Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar
Adjutant General of Wisconsin

This week the Wisconsin National Guard and dozens of other federal, state, local and volunteer agencies are taking part in a major exercise on disaster response in various communities across the state.

Vigilant Guard is a U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) program conducted four times a year in different regions of the United States, to test National Guard capabilities developed since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks as well as Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The exercise shows how local, state and federal agencies would collaborate in response to a real emergency.

Our homeland security strategy builds upon existing training and programs, and culminates with a periodic capstone training event. Vigilant Guard is that capstone event. This exercise has been designed to put pressure on our emergency management response network, and help us identify any weaknesses.

Imagine responding to chemical spills — some small, some large — and tornado damage which also smashed homes and businesses. Imagine moving inmates from a prison threatened by rising flood waters. Imagine coordinating relief efforts for earthquake evacuees in the Midwest. Imagine losing power because of a cyber attack on the power grid. Imagine a suspicious, possibly hostile vessel lurking off the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Now imagine responding to all those scenarios at the same time, and you get a sense of the scope of Vigilant Guard.

There are approximately 3,000 individuals involved in this exercise. Many are with National Guard units in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio. There are also county emergency units, Wisconsin Emergency Management and other state agencies, federal agencies and volunteer organizations such as the American Red Cross and Salvation Army. Responding to disasters involves many moving parts and effective communication and coordination tools.

It’s a big undertaking, but being the first military responder in the event of a disaster is a big responsibility. The military often says it trains as it fights, which means that training conditions should mimic those on the battlefield. Similarly, when we prepare for responding to natural or man-made disasters, the training should be as realistic as possible. There is no 9-to-5 mentality here — the Wisconsin National Guard is working 24/7 on this exercise, just as we would in a real emergency. This is what is required to live up to our motto of “Always Ready, Always There.”

I am proud of the Wisconsin National Guard’s Joint Staff for its support, planning and preparation for this exercise. I am equally proud of Wisconsin Emergency Management for its assistance and coordination. Both organizations are doing a great job thus far into the exercise. More importantly, however, I am proud of all our Soldiers and Airmen that serve Wisconsin and America — thank you for your selfless service!