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Task Force 46: The Lansing-based soldiers in charge of responding to nuclear disaster

Soldiers from the 444th Chemical Company decontaminate a simulated casualty. (Army National...
Soldiers from the 444th Chemical Company decontaminate a simulated casualty. (Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Matthew Wright)(Sgt. Matthew Wright | Sgt. Matthew Wright)
Published: May. 14, 2022 at 5:26 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - How do you train for the kind of disaster that would be put in history books along with words like “worst,” “devastating” and “fallout?”

According to Captain Jim Phillips, Public Affairs Officer for U.S. Army Task Force 46, you simulate. Captain Phillips said it’s a skillset the U.S. always keeps sharp.

“This training has been going on for several years now,” he said.

Members of the Michigan Army National Guard’s 46th Military Police Command, headquartered in Lansing, just completed Vibrant Response 22. It’s some of the highest stakes training a modern military can undertake.

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The 46th, also known as Task Force 46, is a national response force in charge of the leading the response to a massive chemical, biological, or even a nuclear incident in the U.S.

Captain Phillips said, “We’re sort of the brain, with every unit under us being part of the body.”

The training is an intensive disaster relief mission simulation that took place at the Grayling National All-Domain Warfighting Center from May 9 to May 13.

Once the exercise began, Task Force 46 service members set up their tactical operations center just as they would in an actual response to an event. Phillips told News 10 in an email that service members then spent the next several days simulating 24-hour Defense Support to Civil Authorities operations.

“In the training, these mission assignments ranged from assisting air and ground transportation from a nuclear disaster area to providing mass decontamination specialists to help mitigate the effects of radiation,” Phillips wrote. “All these elements came together to provide a simulated whole-of-government response the scenario.”

Task Force 46 is comprised of various active-duty Army, Army Reserve and National Guard units from across the country. They are trained to support civilian first responders when federal assistance is requested by a state.

In the event of a disaster, they would use their specialized training to direct these responders.

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Major General Pablo Estrada, Jr. is Commander of the two-star headquarters unit.

“Homeland defense is our number one priority,” he said. “Supporting a lead federal agency like FEMA in a disaster response scenario demonstrates our resilience and capability.”

Over 300 service members received training on how to provide command and control of medical, communication, transportation and nuclear remediation and mitigation capabilities in response to a simulated catastrophic incident on American soil. Although headquartered in Michigan, the training also took place at locations across Colorado and Texas.

Task Force 46′s response covers a multitude of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incidents, large or small. The teams mobilizing are trained in crucial life-saving abilities to meet the needs of the nation if disaster strikes.

“We hope and pray that an event of this nature will never reach our shores,” said Colonel Chris McKinney, Task Force 46 Chief of Staff. “But of course, as a Department of Defense enterprise, we train for any potential scenario that may call upon our resources.”

Colonel McKinney said, even if they don’t ever see these specific disaster scenarios, learning to work better with civilian groups is useful in and of itself.

“Vibrant Response gives us as military members the opportunity to fine-tune our support to civilian authorities taking the lead,” Colonel McKinney said, “which makes us all stronger regardless of the event we face.”

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