Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

By Mark Dykes
Reporter Photographer 

Major speaks on National Guard assistance

 


Thursday during the meeting of the Hot Springs County Local Emergency Planning Committee, Wyoming National Guard Major Toby Alkire presented about what the Air and Army National Guard can provide to the community in case of emergency.

Alkire explained State Active Duty is where most of the response will happen for the military, with personnel placed after an emergency declaration signed by the governor. With that declaration, he noted, personnel would be placed on State Active Duty, meaning they are no longer on a federal status but on orders paid by the State of Wyoming, and they receive pay and benefits just like any other state employee.

Title 32 is the normal status for the Guard, Alkire further explained. His job, as joint director of military support, is to coordinate the Army and Air Force support assets that would come to a community. There are also Title 10 Active Duty members, which might also be called upon in disasters.

“The biggest thing to touch on,” Alkire said, “is the military’s not in charge. We may bring 100 people to the fight. However, we report to an incident commander, and that incident commander runs the show. We are in a support role, never in charge.” He noted military personnel would take charge of and guide soldiers, but always under guidance from the incident commander.

Alkire also noted the Joint Operations Center, which is not manned all the time, but calls are answered through it 24/7. The center serves as the initial entry point for all Wyoming National Guard Air and Army, and National Guard civilian support operations. The center is very scalable depending on the operation and how many soldiers are needed, allowing for anywhere from two to 15 manning the center.

The National Guard helps quite a bit with search and rescue operations, Alkire said, utilizing civil air patrol as well as UH 60 helicopters. He noted the Air Guard is stepping up a ground search and rescue unit as well. Recently, troops were deployed to help with flooding happening in the Worland/Greybull areas due to ice jams along the river. Troops are utilized to help in instances such as storms and earthquakes as well.

The Guard also has civil support teams for events, if needed. Alkire said this is a 24/7 manned operation with focus on assessing, advising and assisting. These 22 soldiers are active Army and Air Guard, and they are always set up to respond and be on the road within two hours. The services the unit provides — which include decontamination to a limited extent, assessment, communications, logistics, administration, hazardous incident handling, medical and surveying — are typically free when requested.

A lot of the time, civil support team members are pre-positioned at events such as Frontier Days at high alert levels. They are generally unrecognizable, wearing civilian clothes and traveling in unmarked trailers. The unit also has a mobile lab, which can be used for testing of unknown substances, rather than having to send the substance to the lab in Cheyenne.

Alkire noted the initial training for civil unit members is 1,800 hours, and the Wyoming unit has been named the best in the nation from 2013-16.

Another unit, Alkire said, is the National Guard Reactionary Force. It belongs mainly to the Army, though there is a small cell belonging to the Air Guard. Every two years, the location of the force is changed; currently, it’s based out of Laramie. The main focus of the unit is law enforcement augmentation, such as site security, roadblocks and civil disturbance. Alkire noted members could be armed, if proper procedure has been followed.

If the Guard is called out to an event, Alkire explained, a command and control structure is sent out depending on how big the response is. “Recently,” he said, “we had just shy of 100 soldiers on the ground up in the flood area in Worland. If it’s that big we’ll send a small command and control cell, which is part of our joint task force, out to the field. I’ll have a couple of them stood up in the emergency operations center for the state, and then I’ll have one in our joint operations center.”

This allows everyone the capability of connecting with and talking to everyone. Alkire emphasized this is a joint force between the Army and Air Force. This joint task force mobilizes and deploys for command and control, Alkire said, noting this is a very scalable operation.

Among the other services provided by the Guard is an emergency preparedness liaison officer, who works with county and regional preparedness and response personnel. The officer provides understanding of capabilities and resources the Guard, and stays aware of what local authorities require in the way of Guard support and passes that information to the joint director of military support.

As for deployment and cost of services, Alkire said civil support teams are typically free, as are search and rescue operations through civil air patrol. Search and rescue with the use of UH-60s is typically free if approved through Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. Other assets have some type of charge attached.

 

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