DSC_0337.jpgFort Jackson first responders and trainees help "injured" Soldiers during a post-wide full-scale exercise held on post Oct. 19. (Photo by Alexandra Shea)

By Alexandra Shea, Fort Jackson Public Affairs

“It tested our strengths and identified area we can improve,” said Army Training Center and Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Patrick R. Michaelis.

Surprise tornados hit the installation early morning on Oct. 19. Trainee barracks were hit hardest where two trainees were killed and about 30 others were injured. A tornado then struck the on-post housing area where three more were injured and one was killed.

While the scenario is fake, the possibility of a tornado striking the installation is not.

Full-scale exercises, or FSEs, are annual, evaluated events designed to test the strengths and weaknesses of an installation. The exercise helps prepare installation directorates and staff in times of disaster whether natural or manmade. Last year the annual exercise was suspended as the installation implemented real-world practices to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic and keep trainees, Soldiers and civilians safe.

“You practice in peace so you don’t bleed in war,” Michaelis said.

Fort Jackson’s Directorate of Emergency Services including fire, police and ambulance crews were dispatched to the tornado strike zones to provide casualty triage, first responder care, evacuation and incident command at both sites.

“It was a surprise,” said Jeremy Green, a retired Army veteran. “I was just helping out a friend today. Coming down the street I was like ‘Hey … OK.’ I knew they were training though and it makes me feel safer.”

Fort Jackson, South Carolina, firefighters help a mock injured civilian worker walk to an awaiting ambulance after a fictional tornado struck his crew in on-post housing Oct. 19, 2021. The role players were a part of an annual, post-wide full-scale exercise designed to test the strengths of the installation’s directorates to handle a mass casualty event.

Green happened to be helping a friend in Family housing who recently underwent a minor medical procedure. He didn’t know what was happening at first when he turned the corner and was faced with ambulances, fire trucks and Military Police deploying Military Working Dogs in search and rescue efforts.

“We help bring organization to the chaos,” said Cpl. Anthony Connell, a Military Working Dog handler assigned to the 208th Military Working Dog Detachment. “In a real world incident we would deploy our dogs to help find missing people. We are also Military Police so we can help calm people down and take care of them too.”

Connell and his working dog Pastor searched a playground for a missing adult who was believed to be picked up and thrown by the tornado in the area.

Trainees also got in on the action and got their first taste of what a mass casualty event can look like. Dressed in their combat uniforms and some wearing fake blood and bandages, they laid in assigned areas inside and outside a building moaning and in some cases screaming out in pain.

DES moved into the area to triage the most and least injured trainees while providing immediate care to those who could remain conscious and packaged and transportedthose with the most immediate injuries.

The exercise also incorporated resources from the local Columbia, South Carolina, area. Members of the Richland County Coroner’s Office and ambulance crews from Prisma Health were also on scene to provide assistance.

“Right now we are observing how Fort Jackson responds to a natural disaster,” said Chief Deputy Harry Rutherford of the Richland County Coroner’s Office. “In an actual event, Fort Jackson would call us and tell us what they need. We are always here to help.”

“For me and some of my deputies, we have never had to deal with a mass casualty event so this helps prepare us,” Rutherford continued.

While local area partners supported the exercise with equipment and personnel, it also gave them an opportunity to see the scale of resources and ability of Fort Jackson departments and directorates to handle natural disasters, pandemics and active shooter incidents on the installation and the level of support that can be offered to the local community in similar situations.

“To see them all a part of this today really reinforces the rich relationship we have with the Midlands,” Michaelis said. “We have great reciprocal relationships with Columbia.”

Michaelis and his staff will meet with exercise observers after the exercise to identify the areas were improvement can be made and recognize areas where performance was the strongest.

“We will take these events and conduct an After Action Review,” Michaelis said. “Learning from this is what is the most important.”