WAPPAPELLO TRAINING SITE – Spc. Angelica Wasson, who lives in Rolla, was one of about 30 Missouri National Guardsmen from the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 35th Engineer Brigade, of Fort Leonard Wood, who formed Task Force Muleskinner and operated a tactical command post during the Vigilant Guard exercise.

Wasson said being a part of the task force was a great learning opportunity.

“This type of training is vital to a communications soldier in the Guard,” she said. “When a natural disaster strikes, the Guard is one of the first to be called and we are the first to establish communications. Practicing for a natural disaster helps us to be prepared and ready should anything happen.”

While National Guardsmen in the northeast were responding to Superstorm Sandy, Missouri Guardsmen practiced their response to a natural disaster through Vigilant Guard, a statewide exercise, which ran Nov. 3-7.

It was designed to test the National Guard response to a large magnitude earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone in southeast Missouri. Under the exercise scenario, public utilities had been disrupted and there was widespread infrastructure damage across the entire region. Missouri Guard units from around the state participated.

The Missouri Guard has responded to dozens of disasters in the past 10 years, including major flooding along rivers, ice storms, hurricanes in the Gulf and the Joplin tornado.

A tactical command post is a mobile command post that can provide and monitor a variety of communications options, as well as have the ability to track operations, said Lt. Col. Joe Coyle, who was the task force commander.

The group from Fort Leonard Wood set up at Wappapello because it is in the same State Emergency Management Agency Region E where these Guardsmen would likely be sent in the event of a New Madrid Seismic Zone earthquake.

“That is our planned area of operations for an earthquake based on it being a fixed facility that is remote,” said Coyle, who lives in Ballwin. “We want to do everything realistically, with it being remote, as opposed to us sticking around and working from the armory at Fort Leonard Wood.

“It might not be where we’d actually deploy during an earthquake, but it is in the same region, so it gives us the same type of challenges.”

Coyle said the task force was able to respond and function smoothly.

“We got down here, got our systems up and running and have been doing operator training,” he said. “We have been exercising all of our communications equipment for the exercise.”

The unit has prepared for the exercise the last two months, which included a trip to set up the tactical command post at Wappapello during the unit’s September drill.

“We have a lot of communications equipment that you have to get out of the armory, dust it off and find the faults,” Coyle said. “You need to train your operators and it takes time to do that, and you have to make an effort to do it.”

Coyle said the prep time also helped the Guardsmen find the best ways to pack things, and the smartest, so the things they needed first, they packed last.

“It’s a team-building process,” Coyle said.

The Guardsmen utilized several different types of communications equipment, which included high frequency radios that have a 300-mile range.

The task force also used the Joint Task Force Communications Element, which provides Ethernet through satellite and connections for computers, phones and video teleconferencing.

In addition, the very-small-aperture-terminal satellite creates a secure Ethernet system, which allows very-small-aperture-terminal phones to only call other very-small-aperture-terminal phones.

To help track operations, the Guardsmen used Blue Force Tracker, which is a Global-Positioning-System-enabled system that helps monitor the location of all of their assets.