Members of the Kansas National Guard kicked off one of two, joint exercises here, this week that test the growing capability of the Guard’s Domestic All-hazard Response Teams.
The newly created DARTs are 12-man teams requested by the governor of a state who needs outside resources to assist civilian responders in a major disaster.
This week, the exercise is challenging DARTs from the Kansas Guard’s 35th Infantry Division and the Pennsylvania Guard’s 28th ID with multiple simulations, including a terrorist attack, hurricanes, flooding, wildfires and a major earthquake.
Participants are working with the states and the National Guard Bureau to develop standard operating procedures for coordinating requests for Guard resources, including manpower, equipment, special response teams or command and control elements.
“It has been an effort on both of our parts to make DART successful,” said Army Maj. Gen. M. Wayne Pierson, the commander of the 35th ID, who oversees the DART’s western region.
Just over one year ago, Pierson’s division headquarters here took on DART as a concept from Army Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, the former director of the Army Guard.
Pierson said his team took the basic concept and spent months filling in the details needed to make it work.
That’s no small task when considering a lot of communications and protocol it takes to serve as an emergency resource hub between the 54 states and territories and the National Guard Bureau, he said.
The DART operations center is now connected to a potential national asset of thousands of National Guard members and billions of dollars in equipment, which could come in from other states to support a governor and civilian authorities during an emergency.
Saving taxpayer dollars is another benefit of DART, he said, because better coordination of resources ensures a measured amount of Guard personnel and equipment are being sent to the exact locations where they are needed. In concept, a leaner, more specific response force is less wasteful.
They are putting their work to the test in this exercise.
“Overall, the DART concept will be taking a big step forward, I believe, as a result of this exercise,” Pierson said.
Army Maj. Michael Howell, chief plans officer for DART West and a 15-year sergeant with the Kansas City, Kan., police force, was among the first Guard officers to take on the DART concept last August and develop it into a working mission.
He said the headquarters from the 35th and the 28th “worked together collectively to produce tactics and procedures in order to respond to any call for assistance from an affected state.”
“The goal here is to effectively help the states take care of themselves,” he said, “because the National Guard is the first line of defense for America and for our respective states and cities.”
Howell said the exercise will play out the scenarios in which states find their internal resources overwhelmed and the emergency management agreements with other states are also overwhelmed.
“The DART coordination cell will work with the state’s headquarters to identify capability gaps and offer a menu of recommended force packages, which respond to fulfill those capability gaps,” he said.
Those force packages might be a medical platoon, a security battalion or Soldiers for sandbagging operations.
“In order to minimize the costs … we identify the capability gap and we fill that gap, which minimizes the cost to taxpayers and civilian employers,” Howell said.
In a room lined with television screens and computers, the DART coordination cell gathered intelligence, monitored their communication systems and data and worked through the scenarios as they played out the exercise here this week.
Pierson said there’s much more work to be done to ensure they are ready when the DART goes into action for the first time. He said they need to educate the states about the teams, and they also need to improve themselves through exercises, like the current one.
“But if something happens today, I would be very comfortable taking this division headquarters underneath a DART concept and provide support for whatever situation a TAG may call a state and say, ‘I need help,’” he said.
For the last four months, Pierson’s team has traveled to the states’ joint force headquarters to educate the adjutants general and their staffs about DART and its capabilities.
They began with states where the odds show DART support will be needed or those states prone to natural disasters.
He stresses to those state leaders that DART serves under the adjutants general to provide as much or as little support as they need at their request.
Pierson said responsibility for the DART’s east and west missions will rotate through the Army Guard’s infantry divisions during their reset periods.
Kansas and Pennsylvania are scheduled to hand over the mission sometime in the fall.