SEVILLE, Spain — More than 100 military members and civilians from the U.S. and Spain came together from different backgrounds to work side by side during a three-day disaster response exercise.
U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers from the 7th Mission Support Command conducted foreign consequence management disaster-response operations during Combined Joint Exercise SUR 2016 April 5 through 7. They worked alongside military and civilian personnel from the U.S. Navy Combined Joint Task Force 68 as part of the Combined Joint Task Force – Foreign Consequence Management in support of the Spanish military’s Emergency Military Unit, abbreviated UME, and the Spanish army Recon Regiment.
“Working with their officers in the UME has really been an eye opener. They truly have a mastery of their craft,” said Navy Capt. Leonard Lyon, CTF 68 commodore and CJTF-FCM commander. “Having also done some humanitarian assistance disaster relief back in the United States, I can see that the Spanish people with the UME are absolutely on par with our (Federal Emergency Management Agency) personnel and how we respond to disasters in the United States.”
The exercise simulated three natural disasters in short succession in Spain, Lyon said.
“So, we’ve come on scene, set up a small JTF in order to respond to Spanish requests, specifically to UME, which is their version of FEMA but it’s underneath the military here,” Lyon added. “We’ll process any type of requests falling in our joint task force, which we’re calling JTF – Foreign Consequence Management, fall in under them in a direct support relationship in order to provide any type of airlift or chemical response engineering that they might need.”
The first day’s simulated chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear scenario began under a scorching hot sun and amongst wandering sheep.
The initial group to enter the site highlighted the seamless integration of the UME and Spanish army Recon Regiment with U.S. Army’s 773rd Civil Support Team. The combined assessment team was made up of two Spanish army Recon Regiment Soldiers, one UME member and a U.S. Army 773rd CST Soldier.
The foursome conducted a site assessment of a suspected chemical-spill site inside an abandoned building spray painted with murals of graffiti and littered with brick, concrete and debris.
“It’s awesome,” said U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Richard LoisRamirez, 773rd CST survey team member, who acted as a mentor, Spanish interpreter and observer controller during the initial assessment and sampling. “The Spanish army Recon Regiment and UME are a really great team to work with.”
The 773rd CST-UME partnership is more than a year old, and the relationship continues to grow. The 773rd CST worked with the UME last year during Exercise DAIMEL 2015, and UME members came to Germany in February to train with the 773rd CST Soldiers as well.
“It’s a learning experience both ways,” LoisRamirez said. “A lot of the things they do are similar but different.”
The three follow-on teams of four personnel, each with at least one or more 773rd CST Soldiers, a UME member and a Spanish army Recon Soldier, surveyed and took samples of the suspect yellow liquid for post mission testing and identification.
First Sgt. Pablo Sindin, UME infantryman who has worked for the past five years on the special assignment with the UME, said he feels very comfortable working with the U.S. military because they share equipment, they share knowledge and “they’re very, very hospitable.”
Sindin also said he loved spending time with the U.S. military because he got to learn a lot of stuff he didn’t know about his job as a chemical Soldier.
Sindin’s current assignment is a specialized skill as a chemical specialist with the UME.
The second day brought different tests for the 773rd CST as they conducted decontamination operations after a very life-like chemical plant explosion.
Some of the Spanish military requests during SUR 2016 for U.S. capabilities included 773rd CST’s skills for assessment and identification of a suspected chemical spill and separate biological site and decontamination for Spanish and U.S. personnel that responded to the simulated chemical plant explosion.
Also, the 7th MSC’s Medical Support Unit – Europe participated in treating mock patients in different scenarios.
“We triaged patients and networked and shared common practices with the Spanish Red Cross, the Spanish army medical unit and the Navy Environmental Preventative Medicine Unit 7 along with Navy Seabee Medical and Naval Hospital Rota personnel,” said Army 2nd Lt. Jessica Dennison, MSU-E, 7th MSC.
In addition, the 7th MSC’s 361st Civil Affairs Brigade deployed several U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers to work alongside U.S. Navy personnel from CTF 68 in the SUR 2016 U.S. Joint Operations Center.
The U.S. Army Reserve and U.S. Navy personnel in the JOC were the direct link between the Spanish military’s exercise headquarters.
“It has been a mutually beneficial learning experience for all of us,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Gillian Medina, CTF 68 assistant operations officer and CJTF-FCM battle watch captain.
The JOC operated 24/7 and stayed abreast of the ongoing operations and Spanish military requests.
“Collectively as a group, we each brought something to the table to form a complete team,” Medina said. “That is the fun thing about working joint, everyone comes from different backgrounds to accomplish a combined mission.”
During a real-world situation in which a host country requests specialized U.S. military and civilian assistance, the CJTF-FCM would be led by the 7th MSC commander, but during this exercise, the CTF 68 commander was the lead for the task force.
The third and final day of SUR 2016 brought more JOC operations and planning, and 773rd CST was called in to do another decontamination mission before the exercise ended and after action reviews.
“This is a great exercise and a great opportunity for me to do this with the U.S. Army, and I would love to continue participating in joint exercises, like this, whether it is here, the U.S. or any other location the opportunity present itself,” Sindin said.
According to Lyon, overall, the exercise went very well.
“Absolutely fantastic effort,” Lyon said.