By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
National Guard Bureau
TEL AVIV, Israel (5/26/10) – Sirens wailed across Israel and residents took shelter today during a nationwide civil defense exercise carefully watched by a delegation of National Guard leaders.
The communication, collaboration and coordination National Level Exercise Turning Point 4 revealed between the Israeli Defense Force’s Home Front Command – roughly analogous to the National Guard – and local agencies set an example for the Guard, said Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
“While not exact – because our states and governors and adjutants general are really our commanders and they have a state affiliation, whereas the Home Front Command is a national member of the Israeli Defense Force – what I saw here was the integrated way in which the Home Front Command works with their local officials, down to the mayors of the cities,” McKinley said.
“We are doing the same missions,” said Israeli Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, the HFC commander. “We try to help and support the civilian population. Our main counterpart in the United States is the National Guard.”
Golan said the HFC – which also is a reserve force – respects the professionalism of the National Guard, which has many of the same capabilities as the HFC.
Geopolitical reality has forced a high level of readiness on the HFC. “This is a very dangerous neighborhood,” McKinley said. “They’re under constant threat of attack. Being ready next month or next week is not an option. You must be ready today for any eventuality.”
The HFC practices one of the National Guard’s mottos: Always ready, always there.
“They have always said that they will never have their nation threatened again and they will be prepared to pay the highest price to protect their form of government and their way of life – much like in our nation,” McKinley said. “As we fought our revolution, we created a nation that needs to be respected, and we must always understand that the price of freedom should be paid with our effort – and each citizen of the United States should have a part of that.”
North Dakota is an example of a National Guard where a high level of readiness is not optional. Flood-fighting is just one of the challenges the state’s Soldiers and Airmen have faced this year.
Army Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, the adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard, was part of the leadership delegation here to observe Turning Point 4, representing the adjutants general of the 54 states and territories and the commanding general of the District of Columbia.
“The greatest value of my being here is seeing how the communities position themselves, how they’re organized and how they’re prepared to react to a disaster,” Sprynczynatyk said. “I’d give anything for all of our communities back home to have the same level of capabilities that we’re seeing here.
“There is a constant threat here, and they need to be prepared at a minute’s notice to respond. It’s real, and they live it day-to-day and everyone in the country knows and understands that, so there’s no question they have to be prepared – and they certainly are.”
Sprynczynatyk also closely observed the relationship between the HFC and the communities it protects and serves.
“Whenever we’ve had a disaster in the past, we haven’t had … a liaison within the operations center of the county or the city,” Sprynczynatyk said. “I’ve seen that here, and I’ve talked with their liaisons about how important that is. It’s key.
“Whenever there is a disaster, we need to make sure that there is someone from the National Guard acting as a liaison to that community, or that county, to report back to the … joint force headquarters and at the same time … relay to the mayor or the county commission the capability of the Guard and what we can and can’t do.”
Turning Point 4 saw residents and local officials across Israel practicing preparedness and coordination with the HFC. As municipal governments met in fully equipped bomb shelters, monitored computer screens and communicated with higher authorities, individual Israelis rehearsed finding shelter, servicemembers performed drills such as decontaminating people and vehicles and hospitals simulated mass trauma casualty care.
“This is the largest national exercise ever conducted in Israel,” Golan said. “The uniqueness of this exercise is the fact that we practiced with all local governments. Sixty eight of them practiced for two or three days.
“All governmental agencies are in the exercise. All of them train for today. All of them develop the right procedures to handle emergency situations,” he said.
Observing how other nations handle threats helps the National Guard refine its own homeland defense readiness, capacity and capabilities, McKinley said. “We know we’re living in an age of terror,” he said, noting recent events such as a thwarted attempted bombing in New York’s Times Square. “We don’t know exactly when it started but certainly after Sept. 11, 2001, we knew it was potentially very dangerous to our citizens and that the battlefront now includes our home front.
“What I learned here today is that each citizen must take special note of this dangerous era in which we live and do their part to protect themselves and their families and then let the local agencies up through the national government be part of that solution, because it’s a whole-of-government approach to protecting lives, protecting property and restoring order.”
Golan observed a real-world National Guard response during Hurricane Ike in 2008 in Galveston, Texas.
“I went there especially to learn how you conducted a major evacuation operation,” Golan said. “We took most of our ideas from your experience.”
Sprynczynatyk said he is taking ideas back to North Dakota and his fellow adjutants general.
“The one thing that has been truly impressive to me is just the high level of organization, the structure, how everybody is fully read-in to what’s going on,” he said. “It’s been good to talk to military counterparts and learn what they do on a day-to-day basis from the standpoint of national defense in their homeland.
“I relate that back to what we need to do when we [prepare] our National Guard members to react to whatever disaster may occur. We train for war. We’re all very proficient at that. What we don’t do enough of – in my mind – is train for that natural disaster, and here I see that that’s something they do every day.”
As an Oklahoma wing commander, Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt, who is now the director of the Air National Guard, lived the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and watched as his Army National Guard son performed duties in the rubble of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
“They have been under a threat for a long period of time, and they have been able to better organize the military through their Home Front Command with the local first responders,” Wyatt said. “We saw some of that in Oklahoma City. I was proud of the way the community came together, but never having been under a threat like that before, it was a first-time experience, and I think the city learned a lot.
“You see some of the lessons of Oklahoma City being incorporated into what they’re doing here.”
Wyatt also saw potential alternative missions here for Air National Guard units in an era of declining numbers of aircraft. “We see some capabilities … as maybe some of the things that the Air Guard could get into to help not only the communities but to provide a service for the United States Air Force.”
Golan invited the National Guard to observe the exercise here this week.
“The relationship between Israel and the United States is stronger than ever,” McKinley said.