MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. | An Air Force missile convoy is attacked on one of Montana’s remote back roads. Local ambulances and fire trucks need access to the scene. FBI agents are inbound to begin their investigation. An armed suspect has fled the area.
Twelve miles away, the county sheriff’s dispatch center is overwhelmed with calls from concerned residents.
Fortunately, this is only a training scenario.
Recognizing that a significant incident affecting the Air Force would also impact surrounding communities, the 341st Missile Wing and its civilian partners joined for a training exercise Aug. 16-17 at Choteau, Montana.
Starting in 2014, Malmstrom Air Force Base hosts an annual Local Integrated Response Plan training event to coordinate the response capabilities of the Air Force, FBI and civilian law enforcement departments within the state should a missile wing asset ever be threatened or compromised. In 2016 a practical exercise near Stanford, Montana, allowed civilian law enforcement officers to observe an Air Force tactical response to a mock attack on a payload transporter vehicle.
Any actual major event — perhaps a natural disaster, active shooter or mass accident — could create chaos and panic in the community. Joint exercises help emergency responders standardize operating procedures and keep the public safe, calm and orderly.
“With this exercise, we’ve taken it to the next level,” said Stanley Moody, 341st Security Forces Group plans and projects manager, adding that the exercise in Choteau was the largest wing exercise of this type since the Department of Defense’s national exercise at Malmstrom in 2013.
“This community is going to be faced with something they have never seen before,” Moody said. “Do we go to lockdown in the school? How close are we to the school? How close are we to the town? Do we need to evacuate the town? These are kinds of things that the sheriff and the emergency responders need to take into consideration while we focus on our objective.”
Federal, state and local LIRP partners met at Choteau Schools Aug. 16 to review and coordinate agency roles, responsibilities and proper communication channels during an actual incident. The assembly also assessed fire risks and safety precautions for the exercise scheduled that afternoon.
Planning for the LIRP training event began months in advance. The experience gained from it is invaluable, however.
“If something does happen we don’t want it to be the first time seeing our partners who will come help us,” said 1st Lt. Jamal Washington, 741st Missile Security Forces Squadron convoy commander. “If we build a relationship with them in the case of an emergency, that’s going to help us out a lot.”
Teton County Sheriff Keith Van Setten agreed that professional connections made beforehand are important.
“It’s nice to know the face at the other end of the telephone or radio,” Setten said.
The field exercise began mid-afternoon on private land west of Choteau. Military helicopters and armored vehicles protected a simulated disabled payload transporter until the area was declared secure by the convoy commander. Local emergency responders were then called to the scene.
Deb Coverdell, Teton County Emergency Services director, said planning for the exercise helped build relationships between local and state emergency services and the Air Force. In addition to providing the initial medical response, her department would act as a liaison for coordinating state and local resources throughout a major incident.
“We’re blessed in this community because we don’t have big events,” she said. “Being able to plan for those big events and actually practice those big events not being real world, that’s always a pleasure.”
At Malmstrom, specialized command and operational centers were stood up to stage and direct personnel and resources.
The field exercise continued through the night and into the next day as Air Force responders mobilized to the scene. The logistics of providing shelter, food, water, power and communications for several hundred people were practiced as a tent village was erected in an empty pasture near the scene.
“This was the largest-scale base-level exercise to date in Air Force Global Strike Command due to the complexity of its off-base location and integration of all our local partners,” said Capt. Anthony Ferrelli, 341st Missile Wing Inspector General deputy chief of wing plans and exercises.
“The experience and lessons learned from this exercise could not have been gained without the cooperation of all of the local, federal and base agencies involved,” he said. “Should the day come when the unthinkable happens, we as a community are ready.”