STUTTGART, Germany — Bombs go off every day in Iraq. Sometimes, they blow up in places like Madrid and London.
If bombs blew at U.S. military bases in Germany and Italy, those nations might be better able to respond after Flexible Response, an exercise that ended Friday in which about 325 U.S. European Command troops and civilians worked with an equal number from the host nations to minimize damage after simulated, simultaneous attacks.
The attacks included radioactive weapons — not nukes — which added another problem for the response team.
“People are worried about all sorts of stuff out there that’s accessible,” said Marine Col. Jeff Satterfield, chief of EUCOM’s Joint Training, Readiness and Exercises Division.
“You have a criminal element that can get a hold of these things — radioactive material used in hospitals, [weapons] from former Soviet Union countries.”
“When you need help, you need to ask for it quickly and ask for it correctly,” Satterfield said. “There’s a lot of help out there, and you need to organize it in a manner that helps you effectively.”
The nerve center for the weeklong exercise was the European Plans and Operation Center at Patch Barracks, where coordination with U.S. military, state department and host nations was performed.
The players ran through procedures such as who to call first, ascertaining the manpower and resources each nation could bring to bear, and prioritizing their responses.
“We rely on [host nations] to help us every day,” Satterfield said. “We’ve got to show them what we can bring to help them as well.”
The response team also tested their secure telephone and internet hookups, which they do routinely, Satterfield said, but not in a real-time exercise.
Proper procedures for entering a battle were also tested. The military can’t simply jump in and start fighting on another nation’s soil, Satterfield said. Those permissions have to be granted through embassies and other diplomatic channels.
The exercise’s results far exceeded expectations, Satterfield said. It validated some procedures already in place, and opened eyes to things such as the differences between the defense and state departments’ jargon, and the capabilities already possessed by Germany and Italy to respond to a crisis.
Air Force Master Sgt. David Grimes, a guardsman from the Washington state-based 141st Air Refueling Wing, was charged with placing calls to find out if U.S. troops, civilians and family members were accounted for at the crisis sites.
“I’ve done quite a few exercises, and usually you don’t have a lot of sleep,” Grimes said.
“They put you through a lot of stress. Probably the main thing you learn is your limits, what you’re capable of doing and your ability to analyze things when you don’t have a lot of sleep, and also when you’re put under a lot pressure and stress. It helps you get a balance,” he said. “If something like this did happen, I think I would know my limits a lot better now.”