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N.Y. Guard Soldiers, Airman train for really rainy day in hurricane response drill

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Outside it was a sunny, beautiful day, but inside the Glenmore Road Armory, New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from the 42nd Infantry Division and 109th Airlift Wing wrestled with the challenges resulting hurricane hitting the Albany, N.Y. area.

Along with members of the New York Naval Militia and New York Guard, two state defense forces, the Guardsmen and women were testing their decision-making process as part of Operation Rainbow Storm, an annual domestic operations exercise.

"The purpose of this exercise is to practice and train on our ability to manage operations within the Albany Capital region during a disaster for the governor and the people of this area," said Col. Dennis Deely, the 42nd Infantry Division's operations officer. "We do this training so that we are familiar with operations between the Army National Guard, the Air National Guard, the Naval Militia and the New York Guard."

The New York National Guard divides New York State up into six Joint Operating Areas, or JOAs, with Army and Air National Guard units sharing responsibility for aiding civil authorities in each region during a domestic emergency. The units in each JOA are expected to hold one joint exercise annually.

Members of the four New York military services which normally train separately came together during the exercise.

While the bulk of the exercise involved command post operations and communications exercises, two real world training missions were executed to test coordination and iron out joint operating procedures.

The scenarios were built around some of the challenges New York emergency responders faced in August and September 2011 when Tropical Storms Irene and Lee hit the state, Deely said. Cascades of rain resulted in rising flood waters that cut off roads and stranded residents.

In one scenario the National Guard and Naval Militia -- a state force composed of members of the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps Reserves who volunteer to perform state missions when called -- teamed up to deliver food and water to local residents stranded by rapidly rising flood waters.

Soldiers of the 42nd Infantry Division mustered supplies of food and water and delivered them to a boat landing on the Troy waterfront. Waiting for them were two boats, manned by members of the New York Naval Militia. A flight engineer with from the 109th Airlift Wing, handled communications with Joint Task Force headquarters.

The multi-service crew roared off to Campbell Island, which is about three miles up the Hudson River, and delivered its cargo.

Then a call came for the next mission: a search and rescue request for missing persons. Civilians stranded on an island by rising flood waters after the bridge washed out, were lost.

Members of the New York Guard's Search and Rescue Team, 2nd Emergency Response Battalion, 10th Brigade, responded from their headquarters in another part of Troy.

The New York Guard volunteers, who train on their own time and are paid only when called to state duty by the governor, clambered into the boat to find the missing civilians. Led by New York Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Czurlanis, a graduate of the Search and Rescue School and a resident of Clifton Park, N.Y., they divided the island into zones and commenced a search for the missing civilians.

Overseeing these efforts were troops at the Troy armory, where officer and noncommissioned officers from both the 42nd Infantry and 109th Airlift Wing worked through communications and operational issues together.

In a real disaster, each New York county has civilian emergency operation centers to handle disaster response. If these centers identify a resource they need, but cannot provide locally , they call the New York State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

These state officials goes through their list resources, and if they have a request that only the New York National Guard can fulfill, they call the Guard's Joint Operations Center, which forwards that request to the units who will take care of it.

The unit that can best take care of a request may be an Air National Guard unit, if the request is for a weather report, an Army National Guard engineer unit, if the request is for clearing a road, a Naval Militia unit if the request is for a boat, or a New York Guard unit for a search and rescue team.

"We're all working on the same process," said Air National Guard Col. Walter Wintsch, the Joint Force 4 commander. "You can look around and see Army and Air Force people talking together, so I think it's working pretty well."

Training to work together now will help units respond quicker during real disasters, Deely said. The quicker units work together, the sooner people get supplies or get helped during a disaster.

"The key thing on this training is that it makes us quicker to respond and more able to respond," Deely said. "This is how we train to make sure everyone is working together, as fast as we can."

Article by Spc. J. P. Lawrence, 42nd Infantry Division, New York Army National Guard