Photo by Brandon Taylor/Whidbey News-Times
                                Island County Sheriff Deputy Eric Gronbach escorts a volunteer Oak Harbor NJROTC student to safety during the training exercise.

Photo by Brandon Taylor/Whidbey News-Times Island County Sheriff Deputy Eric Gronbach escorts a volunteer Oak Harbor NJROTC student to safety during the training exercise.

Navy training exercise tests local emergency response

Naval Air Station Whidbey conducted its annual anti-terrorism training exercise, Citadel Shield-Solid Curtain, this past week.

Emergency response organizations across the island participated in training scenarios Wednesday, which featured a stabbing at a gas station on the base and an active shooter event in one of the hangars on the flight deck.

The purpose of the training exercises was to assess Navy command and control capabilities while evaluating security and emergency management programs.

More than 150 personnel participated in the training exercise.

Shawn Lightfritz, the installation training and readiness officer who coordinates plans and executes all training exercises for fire, security and emergency management for the base makes the exercises as real as possible.

“Our motto is to train like we fight,” he said.

The stakes of the training exercise were palpable on that cold, wet Wednesday morning as a fake terrorist prowled the halls of the hangar, stepping over bodies and blanks fired from his assault rifle, shouting “I’m gonna kill ‘em all!”

NJROTC students from Oak Harbor High School volunteered to be victims for the event as part of a field trip. In the hangar, the students wore makeup and prosthetics to simulate gunshot wounds and acted injured and distressed.

Although the NJROTC students have participated in similar drills in the past, Wednesday was the first time the students participated in a drill on the base. Participating in the events helps prepare the students for “what we hope never happens,” said NJROTC Chief Bill Thiel.

The students were later “rescued” by Naval personnel, Oak Harbor police and Island County deputies. They received simulated medical treatment by rescuers from the Oak Harbor Fire Department and EMS services. An Airlift Northwest helicopter even touched down on the base to simulate a medical evacuation.

While chaos at the scene of the mock shooting dwindled the Emergency Operations Center, or EOC, a few blocks away continued to perform in a flurry of phone calls and clacking of keyboards.

Base Commander Capt. Matthew Arny said that when an emergency situation occurs, the EOC works quickly to process information and determine what resources are required to address the situation.

“Where it starts tailing off and being a little slower on the scene, there really is a lot of activity here grasping that initial understanding and moving forward with our process,” Arny said in the EOC.

The naval base has resources to manage its day-to-day responses, but relies on its community partnerships to help expand that capability when it comes to a more robust scenario.

Having multiple locations made Wednesday’s situation unique and more complex, Arny said. He recalled the 2013 Navy Yard, in Washington, D.C., shooting that had multiple entities responding but not communicating with each other. He said individuals in similar scenarios need to “make sure we are not adding to the problem, but resolving the situation.”

“We look forward to every opportunity to work with our great professional forces in the community,” Arny said.

Island County Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Garden said the test for the Sheriff’s Office was accessibility to the base once the location of the training incident occurred.

Oak Harbor Police Chief Kevin Dresker said the exercise is important because it allows the department to measure its responsibility to the naval base and assess available resources, such as the number of radios, required to address situations.

While a situation may occur on the naval base it won’t necessarily be isolated to the base, Dresker said.

“It’s always good to coordinate to see how our agencies interact,” Dresker said. “We’re happy to be part of it.”

Photo by Brandon Taylor/Whidbey News-Times
                                Base Commander Captain Matthew Arny and Oak Harbor Police Chief Kevin Dresker work together during Wednesday’s training exercise in the Emergency Operations Center.

Photo by Brandon Taylor/Whidbey News-Times Base Commander Captain Matthew Arny and Oak Harbor Police Chief Kevin Dresker work together during Wednesday’s training exercise in the Emergency Operations Center.

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