West Virginia's historic emergency operations exercise draws to a close
National training opportunity valued by all
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The past four days have seen strong thunderstorms and heat indices rise to over 100 degrees. Undeterred by conditions, first responders and military personnel remained steadfast and carried out Vigilant Guard's response and recovery missions successfully.
Vigilant Guard is a national-level emergency response exercise co-sponsored by U.S. Northern Command and the National Guard Bureau, with the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG), and the state Emergency Management Division (EMD) coordinating the state's participation.
This is the first time West Virginia has hosted an exercise of this magnitude. A main objective of Vigilant Guard is to bring together local first responders, state-level resources, federal agencies, and military assets to provide a coordinated disaster response.
This year's exercise was based upon what could happen if a hurricane were to stall over the state. More than 300 military and emergency response personnel from state, federal, and local agencies confronted scenarios including a chemical spill, train derailment, search-and-rescue operations, and mass-casualty events.
Private sector partners like Kanawha River Railroad and volunteer agencies including West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) also participated. Military delegations from Oman, Peru and Qatar, which have partnerships with the West Virginia National Guard, observed the exercise.
Exercises like Vigilant Guard are planned to max out the state's response capabilities and give participants an opportunity to test disaster response skills with scenes staged to closely resemble real-world events.
“Vigilant Guard showcased the capabilities of West Virginia's emergency response agencies," said Gov. Jim Justice. “I'm unbelievably pleased with the efforts of all the participants and beyond proud to show the world what we have to offer. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to all involved for their dedication to serving the people of West Virginia."
Brig. Gen. Murray “Gene" Holt was designated as Dual-Status Commander for the exercise.
“Vigilant Guard 2021 brought together more than 30 unique organizations, military, governmental, and civilian, including volunteer organizations, to model a whole-of-government and whole-of-community approach to disaster response efforts," Holt said. “The learning scale has been off the curve as we were pushed to the brink by exercise controllers from U.S. Northern Command and the National Guard Bureau. But our folks handled the responsibility tremendously and I couldn't be prouder of our participants, and especially our outstanding planning teams who spent more than a year of concentrated effort to make sure this exercise was one of the best West Virginia has ever experienced."
West Virginia Homeland Security Secretary Jeff Sandy, who also helped lead the exercise, similarly praised the outcome.
“Vigilant Guard has been a tremendous opportunity to show what I've always said: our West Virginia first responders, National Guard members and public safety professionals are the best of the best," said Sandy. “This has been an invaluable experience, to have so many work so well together with the shared goal of protecting and saving lives whatever the hazard."
Vigilant Guard 2021 in West Virginia comes to a close on Sunday, Aug. 29.