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D-M plays key role in homeland defense exercise

Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. -- A simulated catastrophe descended on Davis-Monthan Monday, as the Desert Lightning Team tested its ability to deal with a major accident with nuclear implications.

Exercise Vigilant Shield 07, a national-level scenario kicking off at D-M, connects the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Energy and a host of other federal, regional and local agencies.

The exercise is also going on simultaneously at several centers of activity across the nation. At the outset Monday, D-M was busy paving the way for a response task force takeover and ushering in the Department of Homeland Security to manage the accident.

To do this, Desert Lightning warriors had to deal with the chaos of the exercise's early hours, according to Col. Hal Hoxie, who led D-M's Disaster Control Group. The DCG, a team of experts from multiple disciplines, was responsible for orchestrating the response to the accident.

"We had to get into the crash site, save the injured, and then take steps to ensure public safety," Colonel Hoxie said. Responders immediately established a perimeter, taking steps to safeguard people in the area and contain hazardous material. Work with civil agencies began in the first minutes of the "crisis." The colonel's team undertook extensive environmental action and consequence management, while keeping the public informed through Air Force and local authorities, he explained.

"I was impressed at how professional our teams were and how they teamed with Tucson and county police, fire and emergency management officials," Colonel Hoxie said. "I am thankful that we have that well established relationship, because I know that together we can handle any situation that might happen."

The responders at D-M were also working with the national command authority to ensure the full resources of the Federal Government were brought to bear against the scenario, Colonel Hoxie said. This was the primary objective of exercise planners and organizers at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, according to a statement released by U.S. Northern Command Public Affairs.

According to NORTHCOM officials, Vigilant Shield is focused on a synchronized response from U.S. combatant commands in a homeland defense scenario, with round-the-clock activity. And the goal is to improve the DoD's ability to manage a series of extreme events. A key part of this is interagency response, the statement explained.

This cooperation was clicking at the exercise's Southern Arizona venue, according to Ronnie Faircloth, DTRA's Acting Director of Combat Support.

"The people and resources of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, together with the outstanding support of the city of Tucson and Mayor Bob Walkup, made this training experience a success. The base and city will no doubt walk away from this exercise better prepared to meet the challenges they could face in any scenario."

Mr. Faircloth expressed his gratitude for Tucson and D-M.

"On behalf of all the outside participants, I want to give a hearty thank you to the city of Tucson and base support personnel that made our stay comfortable and enjoyable."

355th Wing Commander Col. Kent Laughbaum said he was proud of the relationship D-M enjoys with the city and region, cited by organizers as a reason D-M was selected for the exercise.

"The fact that we were selected as a venue for this exercise is a testament to what we've accomplished here by working together," Colonel Laughbaum said. "And now they've come to Tucson and seen it first hand. I compliment everyone involved on the job they've done to make this exercise happen. I'm very proud to be a part of this."

The exercise wrapped up at D-M today, but the work done here has set the tone for VS07, which continues at several other venues around the country through Dec. 14.