29th Infantry Division supports Operation Tide Breaker in the Virgin Islands

Lt. Col. Matt Smith, officer in charge of the 29th Infantry Division’ s Domestic All-Hazards Response Team Coordination Cell, explains the capabilities of his unit. (Contributed photo)

Lt. Col. Matt Smith, officer in charge of the 29th Infantry Division’ s Domestic All-Hazards Response Team Coordination Cell, explains the capabilities of his unit. (Contributed photo)

FORT BELVOIR, Va. – Members of the 29th Infantry Division’ s Domestic All-Hazards Response Team Coordination Cell participated in Operation Tide Breaker III, a full-scale multi-hazard and maritime exercise held Dec. 9 -12, 2013, in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. The exercised was designed by the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency, FEMA’s Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program, and the Virgin Islands National Guard’s 23rd Civil Support Team to test the territory’s incident management capabilities.

“This is a great opportunity for the 29th Infantry Division to put our training into practice,” said Lt. Col. Matt Smith, officer in charge of the DCC. “Earlier this year we deployed to Maine for a winter hazard training scenario, and the diversity in missions keeps the 29th ID DCC focused on being able to respond to all types of hazards. Covering the entire east coast means we have to understand the threats of hazards and the DARTs capabilities.”

The 29th ID coordinated closely with the Virgin Islands National Guard and VITEMA throughout the exercise planning and execution, deploying five DCC personnel to integrate within VITEMA and Virgin Islands National Guard. Soldiers from the 29th ID also assisted in resourcing the exercise hazard response teams and augmenting staff positions.

The goal of the exercise is to test the territory’s incident management capabilities within the scope of homeland security and utilizing the Incident Command System developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Smith explained. The 29th Infantry Division collaborated with more than 50 agencies, including federal, state, territory personnel and the private sector. Royal Caribbean Cruise lines participated in the exercise to strengthen their hazard response awareness.

The exercise tested several capabilities including intelligence and information sharing and dissemination, interoperable communications, onsite incident management, emergency triage and pre-hospital treatment, medical evacuation, weapons of mass destruction hazardous material response, explosive device response operations and points of distribution operations.

The scenario-based training exercise began with an earthquake which caused a tsunami to form, devastating many buildings and critical infrastructures along the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. Croix. Major roadways became impassable and emergency responders were unable to reach injured residents. Another training scenario involved potential weapons of mass destruction being found on a cruise ship.

“The people are always the best part of these exercises,” Smith said. “It is important that we understand each other’s operating procedures during training exercises so in a real emergency, everyone understands their roles and responsibilities.”

The 29th Infantry Division is uniquely qualified for this type of exercise because of its capability as a Domestic All-Hazards Response Team. The National Guard Bureau developed the DART to provide Joint Army and Air National Guard support for significant all-hazards events in order to provide an Adjutant General with operational flexibility for augmenting their existing forces with modular and scalable military force packages.

The 29th Infantry Division is comprised of Soldiers from Maryland and Virginia and on Oct. 1, 2013, was tasked by the National Guard Bureau to serve as the Division All Hazard Response Team for 2013 and 2014. The 29th ID is aligned with FEMA Regions 1 through 5 (states east of the Mississippi) to assist a state’s National Guard in their service to governors and citizens during incident response. The western United States is aligned with the 36th Infantry Division, headquartered in Austin, Texas.