TULLAHOMA, Tenn. — Though the weather this weekend is predicted to be mostly sunny with a chance of isolated thunderstorms, for the purposes of the Tennessee Military Department, several counties in southern Middle Tennessee will once again be experiencing the Ice Storm of 1998.
In an effort to improve communication and coordination between local and state agencies, the Tennessee Military Department — the Tennessee Army National Guard, the Tennessee Air National Guard, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) and the Tennessee State Guard — will conduct a series of maneuvers across the state, the likes of which have not been seen since World War II.
Rather than preparing to fight a war, though, the department will be conducting one of the largest statewide disaster preparedness exercises in its history, including more than 50 Army and Air National Guard units that will be training alongside fire departments, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, paramedics and a host of other emergency organizations.
Called “Tennessee Maneuvers 2016,” the exercise will be highly visible throughout Middle Tennessee this summer, with the first exercises beginning around Tullahoma on May 13.
“When the planners sat down, the old Tennessee Maneuvers came up because it was such a big event that affected the state,” said Deputy Director of Joint Public Affairs Nick Atwood. “This is the same mindset and there are a lot of commonalities, even though that was a build up to go to war. This is more of a focus on disaster preparedness.”
Historically, the Tennessee Maneuvers harken back to the autumn of 1942, when almost 850,000 soldiers from 25 U.S. Army divisions spread out over Middle Tennessee to train for combat in Western Europe.
General George S. Patton determined in 1941 that Tennessee was ideal for realistic, simulated combat training as much of the state’s terrain could be directly compared to what soldiers would face overseas.
Between 1942 and 1944, seven large scale training exercises were conducted in the 20-county Tennessee Maneuver Area.
Headquartered in Camp Forrest, Tennessee National Guard soldiers assigned to the 30th Infantry Division participated in maneuvers twice, on property mostly owned by civilians in cities and towns throughout Tennessee.
According to the Tennessee Military Department, local communities supported the troops through land use, logistics support, lodging and countless other support and supply requests and it was this support “that led to the successful training of these soldiers, resulting in a U.S. victory against Germany.”
Resurrecting the statewide cooperative program more than 70 years later, the Tennessee National Guard says the intent of Tennessee Maneuvers 2016 is to develop military commanders and staff at all levels of the Tennessee Army and Air National Guard by executing missions with increasing levels of complexity throughout the six-week exercise.
Additionally, the exercise is intended to help build and maintain the public trust and confidence in the state’s military forces, allowing the public to see that the state’s citizen soldiers are “Always Ready, Always There.”
“Gen. Haston (Tennessee Adjutant General) has said from the very beginning that exchanging business cards at the scene of the disaster is too little, too late,” said Atwood. “One of our primary goals in this exercise — along with the training that we’ll get, not only internally with the military but also working with our civilian partners — is to instill confidence in the taxpayer that we are not going to simply show up and exchange business cards at the scene of the disaster, that we are going to be ready to serve them.”
Simulating a Local Emergency
Coffee County will be the site of the first preparedness mission. In that mission, the National Guard will simulate a response to the 1998 ice storm that left more than 80 percent of households without power – in some cases for more than two weeks — as the city worked to remove trees and restore utility lines felled by the weight of ice accumulation.
“You’ve got to pre-suppose certain things are happening right now,” said 30th Troop Command training officer Maj. Dallas Clements during a Wednesday morning briefing. “The storm front is coming through this area in the next few days, but it’s going to get to that point where Allen Lendley at the Homeland Security Department here in Coffee County is going to reach out to TEMA and say the damage is so great that we’re going to need additional assistance.”
For the simulation purposes of the exercise, by midweek power will have been down for several days and severe ice damage throughout the county will have exhausted the resources of local agencies.
On Friday, May 13, Lendley will make the call for TEMA assistance and, in an unusually sweeping manner, TEMA will then call on all units that comprise the Tennessee Guard’s 30th Troop Command statewide to deploy to Tullahoma to be on standby for whatever missions develop throughout the area.
These units will respond to simulated emergencies with more than eight other agencies that include the Coffee County Sheriff’s Department, the Tullahoma Police Department, Tennova Healthcare-Harton, the Tennessee Department of Health, state parks and the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
While Tennessee Maneuvers 2016 is primarily a Military Department training exercise, the coordinated effort also affords each participating local agency the opportunity to practice its own response to disaster scenarios, allowing each agency to conduct training fitted to its own organizational needs and giving them the opportunity to work together to perfect their response skills.
Though the 30th Troop Command is headquartered in Tullahoma, the call for deployment will see a statewide response, with units arriving at the Tullahoma Municipal Airport Friday.
According to Clements, units will be visible both on the ground and in the air as they respond to reports of damage from local law enforcement agencies.
The 107th Airfield Operations Battalion will set up operations at the Tullahoma airport as the 269th Military Police Company deploys to patrol the roads and the 151st Aviation regiment deploys to patrol the skies.
On Saturday, aviation traffic will pick up around 10 a.m. as military units prepare two air training operations. In one, they will simulate the evacuation by helicopter of 80 patients (role-playing members of the Guard) from Tennova Healthcare-Harton to other area hospitals. In another, they will send 110 soldiers to a simulated airplane crash site in Grundy County’s South Cumberland State Park for a “Stranded Civilian” search and rescue mission.
Exercises at both the airport and the hospital are designed to take place around expected weekend traffic without disrupting the normal operation of either facility.
On Sunday, the final event of the weekend will see most units packing up to leave the area as a support company establishes points of distribution for food and water. However, because no supplies will be distributed in the simulation, the afternoon will be spent in the presentation of a “Public Safety Day” event at Coffee County Central High School.
From 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, multiple emergency response organizations — fire and police departments, rescue squads and the National Guard — will position their equipment and vehicles into a static display at the school for public viewing.
Following the May event in Coffee County, the next major exercise window will see missions of escalating difficulty across the state.
Starting in Memphis and ending in Bristol, these exercises will run from June 11-25 and encompass areas including Nashville, Milan, Smyrna and Chattanooga.
The Memphis scenario is based on the catastrophic New Madrid fault line scenario which experts feel will cause earthquakes and destruction on a magnitude virtually unprecedented in modern history.
The final set of exercises will be held around Bristol where units will be responding to catastrophic weather scenarios with local emergency agencies.
Even though the exercise will be conducted in major population centers, Guardsmen from across the state will be participating, resulting in increased visibility and vehicle traffic on state highways.
—By KELLTY LAPCZYNSKI, Tullahoma News Staff Writer
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