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Reserve, first responders set exercise

A regiment of the Army Reserve will be fulfilling one of its missions this year by conducting a live exercise with local first responders. 

The 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, will be coming to Comanche County to engage with first responders on support-based exercises between March 29 and April 2, according to the Comanche County Emergency Management. It will be bringing over 300 personnel and 14 aircraft to be housed at Fort Sill. 

The mission is a part of the regiment's Mission Essential Task List, or METL, and is meant to help expand its training and capabilities. Maj. Timothy B. Satterthwaite of the 7-158 said the goals are "interaction with civilian entities, equipment familiarization and mobilization across the country." The regiment's units are spread over six states, none of which is in Oklahoma, according to a news release from Comanche County Emergency Management. 

When choosing where to conduct the live exercise with local first responders, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) suggested that the 7-158 reach out to Comanche County and the Lawton area. The presence of Fort Sill would allow the Reserves to tap Army resources for housing, transporting and feeding 300 personnel, in addition to housing 14 large aircraft.

"Fort Sill provided a central location for our 'six state' unit with low cost and available resources," Satterthwaite said. 

Participants from Comanche County include the Lawton Fire Department, Lawton Police Department, Comanche County Sheriff's Department, a number of volunteer fire departments, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and agencies from Fort Sill. Participants met by teleconference with the Reserves to plan the exercises; they also made a site visit for them to examine suggested facilities. 

Some of the exercises to be conducted will be agency specific. For example,the Lawton Fire Department and the volunteer fire departments will focus on how to handle a crashed or failing aircraft. Knowing where the emergency shutdown is, and what dangers may be on the aircraft, will give the fire departments valuable training should an aircraft ever crash in this area, according to Comanche County Emergency Management. Participants also plant to exercising how to transport a large amount of people with Reserve helicopters.

The refuge will practice how to communicate with the Reserve aircraft for wildfire and rescue situations. Communication could be problematic during a real scenario, as both agencies use different types of radios and frequencies. They'll also be practicing hoisting and other rescue tactics.

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