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|Local headlines provide training scenarios for National Guard|
By 2nd Lt. Angela K. Fry, 528th Engineer Battalion Unit Public Affairs Representative
A troubled economy, smoke and less-than-lethal ammunition provided realism for emergency training conducted by the Louisiana Army National Guard's 528th Engineer Battalion at Ouachita High School.
The unit, headquartered in Monroe, participated in the annual Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise with help from instructors from Louisiana State Police Troop F. The LSP provided hands-on training for the Soldiers focusing on diversion and riot control tactics.
"It is important for the Guard to maintain a good relationship with all local agencies," said Capt. Javier Leija, company commander of the 1023rd Engineer Company in Bastrop. "We never know what we're going to face when we're called out for state emergencies."
Leija, a full-time a law enforcement officer with Troop F, also explained that even though his soldiers are primarily engineers, recent deployments in support of various natural disasters have had them working security missions.
"We are soldiers first. When we are facing deployments in unusual situations, it is beneficial to train with agencies that have a better working knowledge of the different roles we might find ourselves in," the Alto resident added.
Realistic training scenarios often include political and economic environments. Master Sgt. Calvin C. Sistrunk of Bastrop, operations sergeant for the 528th, created the scenario for this year's EDRE using information pulled straight from local news headlines.
"For example, in Bastrop, International Paper is closing its doors. This will put more than 500 local workers out of jobs. The closing has been rumored for a long time and was in my mind because of the way it is affecting our community," Sistrunk said.
He explained the training scenario for the EDRE: a local business is due to close within a matter of weeks and frustrated employees have taken legal action and voiced threats of potential violence against the city and the company. Soldiers from the 528th have been
called in to provide checkpoints, security and riot control in the face of possible violence.
Command Sgt. Maj. Brent D. Barnett of Chatham, senior enlisted advisor for the 528th and a post-certified law enforcement officer in Jackson Parish, stressed the importance of the National Guard's involvement in the state and its local communities as the first line defense in emergency situations.
"In situations like the scenario used in the exercise, the citizens' reactions, although chaotic, are brought on by a sense of loss, which is both financial and emotional," stressed Barnett, who has been in the National Guard for 20 years and participated in humanitarian and security missions in support of state emergencies such as Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike.
"They are simply reacting to that loss. We need to understand their loss and frustrations. We, as Soldiers, need to exhaust every civil means of curtailing the situation rather than escalating the problem," the veteran of Operation Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom added.
The EDRE provided a glimpse of the dangers Soldiers may face in security situations, but morale was also improved by the hands-on training.
"Applying training in practical situations is always a plus for the Soldiers," Barnett said. "It allows them to experience an actual scenario of events they may face and incorporate fun while they are receiving that training."
Soldiers from the 528th provide assistance and disaster relief in cases of floods, tornadoes and hurricanes. They also regularly participate in Community Action Projects. Over the past several years, the unit has deployed to Afghanistan, Belize, Honduras and Germany for construction and humanitarian relief projects.
The 528th is part of the larger 225th Engineer Brigade, which is located at Camp Beauregard in Pineville.