Newman Fitness Center on Fort Stewart looked like a scene from a movie set with burning cars, people with fake blood, and choking smoke billowing over the parking lot.
Fort Stewart held its annual emergency response exercise called “Stewart Guardian” Thursday morning with the help of emergency services from the installation and surrounding counties.
“I was very pleased,” Col. Townley Hedrick, Fort Stewart’s garrison commander, said of the exercise.
Hedrick said the coordination with the local communities was good, and the scenario at the gym was impressively set up. The exercise tested the security of the post and its reaction to a crisis situation.
“So what we try to do is kind of a multi-echelon approach once a year, a big-force protection exercise, that again focuses on security at the gates — which is one of our primary concerns is can we protect our soldiers and families here in the post,” Hedrick said.
“Then, the second thing we want to train is, we want to train crisis response,” he said. “So in the event the security is breached and something happens on post, we want to make sure all our first responders are trained to react, set up an incident site management center. And run an event through eliminating the threat and then treating causalities and then causality evacuation to get them care.”
The crisis-response segment of the exercise was at Newman gym, starting with simulated explosion noises and burning of two cars to replicate an explosion in the parking lot. Smoke grenades enhanced the disorienting effect.
As firefighters arrived, simulated “walking wounded” victims clung to battle buddies seeking help and other, more-severely injured victims were spread throughout the area.
The first team of firefighters worked on extinguishing the car fires while others came to assist the wounded in the parking lot and inside the gym.
The firefighters and EMS personnel helped triage and transport the victims either by ambulance or airlift.
“We go into a standard triage mode where we analyze each patient and, based on their critical level, we prioritize them for transport to medical facilities,” said Matthew Chew, a firefighter with Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Fire Department.
Chew was one of the responding firefighters to the exercise scene.
“So, it just depends purely on injuries and not who’s calling out or anything like that. We have to stay impartial as we move through the scene,” he said.
“If you don’t take it to the realistic level, people get complacent,” said Bob Heffley with Long County Emergency Management. Heffley was one of the exercise’s observer controller.
Chew said the training at Newman gym was quite close to the real thing.
“This is a good scenario we did here. It was more than I expected, that’s for sure. We had three car fires, two reports of an explosive device, so it was full scale today,” he said.
“You train as you fight,” Hedrick said. “So you want it to be as realistic as possible because you’ll always revert to your training when everything goes to heck in a hand basket. So you’ve got to make your training as realistic as possible so that when it does really happen, you just revert to the training that you’ve done.”
Heffley said that after the force-protection exercise was over, the observers would get together and discuss what went right and what could be improved.
“It just makes us be better for the real event, and that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
Chew said the exercise gave him a better understanding of communication.
“Just the communication level, just the difficulty when you have that many patients and that many firefighters on scene,” he said. “Making sure that all the commands are flowing smoothly and clearly throughout. I think that that was a good lesson today.”
Heffley said that by working with Fort Stewart and the other counties — including Liberty, Chatham and Wayne — the lessons learned would be brought back and implemented in their own training and exercises.
Hedrick also focused on the joint effort that helped make the exercise a reality.
“What I’ve seen at Fort Stewart, talk about total team effort,” he said. “I mean, it is one team from Liberty County to Savannah to Hinesville.”
Hedrick said they aren’t going to focus on training soldiers for the specific lone-wolf scenario used for the exercise. Rather, he thinks everyone just needs to be more situationally aware.
“I don’t think we’ll necessarily train more for it. I mean — again — remember, this is a force-protection exercise for Fort Stewart, and every post is doing this on a regular basis and has been all along,” he said. “So I don’t think you’ll necessarily see us shifting a focus to the lone-wolf kind of thing. We’ll certainly highlight the need for everyone to be more situationally aware in their life on a regular daily basis.”