FORT MCCOY, Wis. — Seventy-two New Hampshire Air and Army National Guardsmen joined forces July 16-18 at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin for PATRIOT North 19, an annual domestic operations exercise hosted by the Air National Guard.
The training teamed up airmen from New Hampshire’s 157th Security Forces Squadron and soldiers from New Hampshire’s 237th Military Police Company for hurricane response training scenarios, alongside more than 700 other airmen, soldiers and civilians from across the U.S.
“This is making sure we’re ready at that moment’s notice for our state mission,” said Master Sgt. Paul Lawrence, training manager for the 157th Security Forces Squadron. “A lot of what you’re seeing here is directed toward our state domestic training operations.”
While a heat wave rolled through the region, the Guardsmen integrated with Wisconsin state troopers and reacted to various mock emergency calls for service. As part of the exercise, they provided first aid, evacuated casualties, manned water-distribution stations, quelled domestic disturbances and performed crowd control duties.
To enhance realism, event organizers employed 45 role players to act as natural-disaster victims.
“The actors are a vital part of the experience,” Lawrence said. “I think basically, we’re training how we’re going to deal with it in the real world.”
One scenario featured a small group of airmen distributing water with the Salvation Army from the back of a small supply truck. In a test of crowd-control capabilities, a group of role players turned violent and rushed the truck. Guardsmen grappled with the rioters to protect humanitarian workers and prevent the theft of supplies.
Staff Sgt. Joseph Melanson of the 157th Security Forces Squadron called on his defensive tactics to thwart two rioters who attempted to tackle him during the melee.
“That provided us the most realistic training we could get,” said Melanson, who brings added training to the unit from his civilian career as a Portsmouth police officer.
At one point during the training, all 45 role players rioted against a line of Guardsmen and troopers outfitted in crowd-control gear complete with shields, helmets, shin guards and batons. As the confrontation escalated, rioters threw full water bottles and pounded their fists against the clear plastic shields. At the height of the scrum, an airman was ripped from the end of the line by an enthusiastic actor, thrown to the ground and stripped of her helmet.
“When we train, some people from the outside see it as getting a little rough,” Lawrence said. “But we make sure these guys are well prepared for those situations and scenarios.”
Not all the scenarios were scripted to become violent. In some instances, actors would stand down if Guardsmen and troopers employed effective de-escalation techniques.
“It really kind of helps if our defenders focus on using verbal skills,” Lawrence said.
The exercise marked the first time that airmen, soldiers and civilians had worked together at the annual PATRIOT event.
“Army and Air never really come together in many domestic operations,” said Master Sgt. William Hawley, lead law-and-order planner for the exercise. “Here they combined, they developed, they grew and they came together to solve a problem.”
Senior Master Sgt. Timothy Hackett, operations superintendent for the 157th Security Forces Squadron, helped coordinate the training mission and enjoyed the joint dynamic.
“We leave knowing our state and country are well protected, and we’re better trained,” Hackett said.
At the conclusion of the last scenario on the final training day, participants shook hands, high fived, posed for group photos and reflected on a job well done.
“What you have learned here today will carry on with you; I can guarantee that,” Hawley said. “We look forward to making sure that when we get called, you’re at the tip of the spear to help our citizens across our nation.”