By Story by Spc. Cody Muzio
Joint Force Headquarters-Alabama National Guard
When asked, the Alabama National Guard’s Deputy Director of Military Support, Lt. Col. Mike Davenport, will tell you what everyone already knows, “2020 is an unprecedented year.”
For Davenport, who oversees Alabama Army and Air National Guard domestic missions, that has meant very little time to rest and a lot of opportunities to test the readiness of our troops.
“We have had Soldiers and Airmen on active orders for domestic response non-stop since March,” he said. “We’ve responded to more this year than any other time in my career.”
While continuing to meet the overseas deployment needs of the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force—missions that are planned years in advance—this year has seen the Alabama National Guard tapped for response to tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, civil unrest, and a pandemic in addition to many, many ongoing operations assisting partner agencies.
It was this gauntlet of crises, Davenport said, that made his involvement in the annual European multinational exercise Blonde Avalanche all the more important this year.
“This was an opportunity for the Alabama National Guard to share some of our real-world experiences in domestic response with our partner nation as they build their own preparedness for similar events,” he said. “The exercise demonstrates the importance of military support to civilian authorities in a time of need in any country and how important that cooperation is to save innocent lives.”
Blonde Avalanche is a yearly event in which a combined military task force from Romania (Alabama’s partner nation), Hungary, Ukraine and Slovakia is tasked with responding to a simulated disaster. Because Blonde Avalanche rotates its host country each year, 2020’s host, Romania, requested Davenport and an ALNG team attend to observe and consult on the operations.
The 2020 scenario pitted the nations against a massive flooding of the Danube River, which required teams to rapidly transport personnel and materials, build dams and bridges, evacuate local citizenry, conduct rescues of waterborne civilians, provide medical care, assist in maintaining order, and more.
The event also incorporates local law enforcement, emergency management authorities and even local political bodies, creating the unique challenge of not only complex communication between nations but also between military and civilian entities.
Like Davenport, Romania’s Deputy Chief of Defense Maj. Gen. Vasile TOADER, said the need for disaster training exercises like these has become increasingly apparent during this “unprecedented” year.
“What we have seen more and more,” he said, “is the necessity of cooperation and coordination with other agencies who are the first responders in case of emergency situations. We know that we have to be able to stand ready to support them at all times in case something happens and their capabilities become overwhelmed.”
That cooperation and coordination, they both agreed, are the keys to success in a crisis event.
“Communication between military and civilian entities faces many challenges,” Davenport said.
“The largest one to overcome is the trust in your partner to perform their mission tasks when needed. Exercises like this allow those partnerships to become personal and build that ingrained trust.”
“Always in these situations,” TOADER said, “the emergency management agencies are the first call, but there are a lot of contingencies where they may be overwhelmed. Our support for local authorities is of utmost importance to relieve our civilian population in their time of need.”
Blonde Avalanche 2020 was the 18th annual iteration of this disaster response partnership exercise, which TOADER said has been instrumental in building relationships and international readiness throughout the region.
“The lessons learned from the experiences by each of the parties involved here, including Alabama, helps us to refine our procedures and establish training activities that make us more efficient and more effective—faster and better—when we have to act in the case of a disaster,” he said.
Although Blonde Avalanche is a strictly European event, Davenport insisted that the benefits are felt on both sides of the Atlantic.
“We all know floods are not unique to Romania or the Danube,” he said. “The challenges faced here are the same ones faced there and seeing the solutions our partners develop helps us build more and more effective tools of our own.
“Our experience helps them refine their training which helps us improve ours and so on. At the end of the day, everyone is better able to handle whatever the world throws at us next.”
See more photographs at https://dvidshub.net/r/zy5774