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Muscatatuck Hosts Annual Disaster Response Military Exercise

The annual training exercise helps prepare troops to respond to a potential disaster. (Steve Burns)

An annual training exercise at the Indiana National Guard’s Muscatatuck Urban Training Center helps prepare troops to respond to a potential disaster on U.S. soil, and people come from all over the country to participate.

It’s like a scene from the set of a disaster movie. There are overturned cars, signs calling for help and demolished buildings, but it’s actually all here for a major military exercise at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Jennings County. Over the next month, more than 5,000 personnel from multiple branches of the military and other agencies will simulate a response to a nuclear detonation in a major city.

The training is an annual exercise at the center that’s been going on since 2009. It’s part of an effort to ensure troops are prepared to help local authorities respond to disasters both natural and man-made, like a chemical or nuclear attack.

“If you think about your own family going through a catastrophic event like this, and you can’t get to them, we come in to assist the local authorities to save lives, mitigate any suffering and decrease the property damage,” says U.S. Army Reserve Colonel Chris Briand, who serves as Chief of Operations Group for the exercise.

Preparations for the event include making realistic mannequins with a variety of injuries. Military personnel might find them trapped in collapsed buildings or on a derailed train. Civilians are brought in to act as role-players to bring more realism to the exercise.  Kenneth Plato works for a company that manages these civilians. He says it all feels so real.

“It gets very intense. You can see it in the soldier’s eyes even though they know that this is a mock,” Plato says. “As soon as they see civilians screaming or crying or protesting and yelling at them in anger, it becomes very real, very fast for them.”

Briand says that realism makes Muscatatuck an important resource for disaster readiness.

“I know I’ve been serving in the military for 20 years and prior to doing this guardian response exercise, I’ve never seen a venue this unique and really the capabilities of it to exercise,” Briand says. “I’ve never seen anything like this across the country.”

Briand also says there’s so much focus on the military fighting abroad, we often forget the preparation in place for catastrophic incidents on U.S. soil

“It’s kind of heartwarming to understand and know that we have the same protection in place and same training in place to protect our homeland,” Briand says.

The exercise will continue through the end of the month.

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