VIGILANT SHIELD XVIII: WSMR hosts infrastructure protection exercise

(Background photo) Soldiers assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y., move through the mountains of New Mexico during the Vigilant Shield exercise at White Sands Missile Range Nov. 2. The Soldiers are practicing supporting local guards at a critical infrastructure facility, that the Soldiers might be called upon to do as the unit is on a rapid response status. Photo byJose Salazar, WSMR Public Affairs.

(Background photo) Soldiers assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y., move through the mountains of New Mexico during the Vigilant Shield exercise at White Sands Missile Range Nov. 2. The Soldiers are practicing supporting local guards at a critical infrastructure facility, that the Soldiers might be called upon to do as the unit is on a rapid response status. Photos byJose Salazar, WSMR Public Affairs.

By John Hamilton, White Sands Missile Range Public Affairs:

(El Paso, Texas, Nov. 9, 2017)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. – Shots rang out in a New Mexico canyon when Soldiers assigned to the 10th Mountain Division secured a simulated critical infrastructure facility from armed suspects during a training scenario held here Nov. 2.

The scenario is one of several the Soldiers came to WSMR, which abuts the training areas of Fort Bliss, 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, N.Y., to WSMR. It began Oct. 31 and officials expected it to last 10 days.

“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 assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, who deployed to WSMR for the Vigilant Shield exercise.

Soldiers assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y., push into a simulated critical infrastructure facility on White Sands Missile Range, N.M., during Vigilant Shield Nov. 2. The Soldiers had to transition from the open arid mountain terrain to a small urban environment, challenging their tactics and training.

The training event included several scenarios to help prepare the Soldiers for a possible mission that might take place within the U.S., and require close cooperation with police, local special security guards, and others who might not be as familiar with military operations, but still be in need of Soldiers and Army support.

Lt. Gregory Cranmer, a supervisor security guard at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., opens fire on Soldiers assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y., during Vigilant Shield at the missile range Nov. 2. The guards, acting as the opposing force, made everything difficult for the Soldiers. The guards were intimately familiar with the location and could move and lay ambushes with ease. Photo by John Hamilton, WSMR Public Affairs.

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. Scenarios such as 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.

Ground support crew from the Logistical Readiness Center unload a C-130 aircraft in support of Vigilant Shield at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., Oct. 31.

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 COFs at Fort Drum,” Negron said. “I wouldn’t mind being assigned here.”

A Soldier assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y., assembles a cot at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., Oct. 31. Soldiers at the division stayed at the missile range for about a week to train for a possible domestic security mission.

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.

“Tenth 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 Company C, 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.”