Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division push into a simulated critical infrastructure facility on White Sands Missile Range during Vigilant Shield. The Soldiers had to transition from the open arid mountain terrain to a small urban environment, challenging their tactics and training.
U.S. Army photo by John Andrew Hamilton
Shots rang out in a New Mexico canyon when Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division secured a simulated critical infrastructure facility from armed suspects during a training scenario held Nov. 2. The scenario is one of several the Soldiers came to WSMR to take part in during the Vigilant Shield 18 exercise. Vigilant Shield is a rapid deployment exercise designed to practice the deployment of a unit of Soldiers to support local guards or police to protect a critical infrastructure site. Sponsored by U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the exercise saw the deployment of about 100 Soldiers from Fort Drum, New York to WSMR. "We've got that 24 hour response time, it doesn't matter that we're not an airborne unit. We're light infantry, we're a mountain division, and we can be anywhere in the world, and we've got to be ready for that," said Spc. Moses Negron, a rifle team leader with 10th Mountain Division, who deployed to WSMR for the Vigilant Shield exercise. The training event has included several different scenarios to help prepare the Soldiers for a possible mission that might take place within the US, and require close cooperation with police, local special security guards, and others that might not be as familiar with military operations, but still be in need of Soldiers and Army support. For the exercise, the Soldiers conducted security sweeps and patrols, set up observation points and ran through specialized training scenarios that represented possible real-world occurrences the Soldiers might see on a infrastructure defense mission. Scenarios like suspicious persons, lost hunters, and guard shift changes were played out, giving the Soldiers a chance to practice handling situations that are likely to occur during a real domestic defense operation. The scenario in the mountains around WSMR saw platoons retake a simulated facility from a group of violent disgruntled security forces. Soldiers and civilian guards faced off, fighting against each other using blank ammunition, making for an energetic engagement that gave the Soldiers a chance to do detailed training on close-in combat in mountainous and urban terrain. The scenario saw several WSMR guards play an opposing force that represented a small group of radicalized or disgruntled individuals already inside the facility, requiring the Soldiers to assault the facility and neutralize the threat. WSMR was chosen as the training site for several reasons. WSMR already has a vacant facility able to support a Battalion sized unit. This allowed the Soldiers access to a like-new move-in-ready Company Operations Facility with plenty of space and support services. "It's nicer than our COF's at Fort Drum," Negron said. "I wouldn't mind being assigned here." WSMR is large, with several airfields of different sizes and support levels, so the Air Force was able to fly in C-130s directly to WSMR to deliver the Soldiers equipment. WSMR's large guard and police force was also a big contributing factor, providing the kind of knowledge and depth of integration needed for the Soldiers to train at the same level as a real mission. "10th Mountain has been awesome. We've had a really good integration with them as we've been through the exercises yesterday and today," said Lt. John Moore, training officer with WSMR's security forces. Additionally, WSMR has a large number of training areas in close proximity, allowing the Soldiers to conduct a number of live fire exercises, spending little time on movement to the range areas. "Out here in the desert and mountains we're really putting different parts of our training together, working in small groups, bigger groups, with the civilian guard forces…" said Pfc. Daniel Chan, a machine gunner with the 10th Mountain Division. "Whether we're in the mountains or down in the valley, we're going to be ready." The facility was represented by WSMR's Mountain Village test site. Originally constructed as a test site for the Network Integration Evaluation, the site is composed of several buildings with an outer wall, making it a decent representation of a secure facility. Located in mountainous terrain nearly a mile above sea level, the site also gave the Soldiers a chance to really move around in terrain that's a bit different than what they are used to at Fort Drum. "This is something that puts us into a new location, takes use out of cold desolate Fort Drum and puts us in a new spot," said Capt. Andrew Boyle, company commander of C Company, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry, 10th Mountain Division. "It allows the Soldiers to train in a desert atmosphere and apply some of those battle drills in something different." As a rapid deployment exercise, the event was put together in a rather short period of time, with WSMR operations staffers coordinating daily with Army North's representatives. Further complicating matters was Army Norths' current real world commitments to their disaster relief missions in Houston and Puerto Rico. In the end, the teams from Army North, NORAD, WSMR, and 10th Mountain were able to pull together and make the exercise happen. "It wasn't easy, there were a lot of moving parts and the exercise plan changed many times, but it's great to see it all come together in the end and see the Soldiers taking part in a successful exercise," said Lea Jones, an operations officer with WSMR's operations office. 10th Mountain Soldiers are expected to continue operating out of WSMR until Nov. 9 and conduct additional training before returning to Fort Drum.