An American city known as Metropolis has been attacked by a terrorist outfit, and another attack could come at any moment.
That’s not the premise of the latest Tom Clancy novel, but rather the scenario a Fort Hood aviation unit placed itself in during a 10-day field training exercise that wrapped up Friday.
It’s all part of a Department of Defense plan that places several Fort Hood units on a nationwide response force beginning this summer.
With a fleet of more than 30 Black Hawks and a dozen Chinook helicopters, 2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment — part of 1st Cavalry Division’s Air Cavalry Brigade — set up a tactical assembly area in a rural area of Fort Hood near Belton Lake.
As part of the scenario, the battalion’s location was a few miles outside Metropolis. Other federal agencies also responded to the dire terror situation.
The battalion’s main contribution is to provide air transport of people and supplies to the affected city — something the battalion did by practicing sling load operations during the 10-day field event.
About 350 soldiers from the battalion also practiced chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear training by simulating a terrorist attack on a nearby industrial complex that sent poisonous fumes drifting into the unit’s assembly area.
“That is the most likely scenario for us,” said 1st Lt. Darrian Henderson, who oversaw the battalion’s chemical protection methods during the exercise.
The main focus of the Defense Department emergency rotation is as a CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosives) response force — a combination of task forces created in the wake of national disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“When a state calls for an emergency, it allows for DOD to become part of the process,” said Maj. Ashley Lee, executive officer for 2nd Battalion.
All told, the response force has about 5,200 service members who can respond to a national disaster within 24 hours of getting called up, according to a 2014 report in National Defense Magazine. The response force also includes military logistical and communication units.
Currently, the response force rotates among active-duty military units. Fort Hood’s 36th Engineer Brigade, 1st Medical Brigade and 2nd Battalion are all scheduled to become part of response force beginning June 1. The rotation lasts one year.
“The DOD has taken a lot of lessons learned from Katrina,” said Lee.
The battalion will get more intensive training in March, when it spends a month at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., along with the 36th Engineer Brigade.
The battalion’s main task as part of the response force: “Minimize human suffering,” Lee said. “That what we’re here to do.”
“The primary focus for JRTC is the 36th Engineers,” said Lt. Col. Jenness Steele, the commander of 2nd Battalion. In Louisiana, Steele said her soldiers will get in-depth training, including face-to-face contact with their response force teammates and others who take part in the training.
“There is nothing more valuable than face-to-face contact,” Steele said.
During the 10-day field exercise, the battalion set up everything they may need in a real-world scenario, including a field kitchen, medical area, maintenance areas, sleeping tents and even their own air traffic control tower on the back of a truck.
“Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of traffic,” which translates into more training for soldiers, said Capt. Maria Orozco, who heads up the battalion’s air traffic control company — the only unit of its kind at Fort Hood.
All of the training is different than the overseas combat missions the battalion usually trains for, said 1st Sgt. Gerald Plaster, the top noncommissioned officer in 2nd Battalion’s Bravo Company.
While the battalion may or may not need to deploy to an American city under a terror attack, the soldiers in the unit “understand why we’re doing it,” Plaster said.
For the Metropolis scenario, the soldiers were allowed to carry their Army-issued weapons, but that may not always be the case, depending on the DOD’s directive at the time. At the upcoming JRTC mission, the soldiers won’t be carrying rifles and pistols.
When the rotation actually begins for the local units this summer, the soldiers will be on a rapid deployment plan, which means leave time will be limited. Leaders in 2nd Battalion said the unit will still be deployable to war zones during the rotation.
An actual national response would come after local or state leaders request federal help, and get approval from federal agencies, Lee said.
If the aviation battalion does get the call to respond to a national disaster, it wouldn’t be the first time for the Fort Hood helicopter unit.
Maj. Brian Major, the operations officer for the battalion, was with the unit in 2005, when it was called up to respond to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit more than 10 years ago.
“Every civilian with a helicopter was out there trying to assist,” said Major, adding multiple active-duty and National Guard units had responded to the disaster in New Orleans. “And we all had different commands.”
The confusion led to too many resources going to some destinations or not enough to others. With the Defense Department’s current response plan, those inefficiencies shouldn’t happen, officials said.