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National Guard, local first responders prepare for natural disasters in 4-day exercise

National Guard, local first responders prepare for natural disasters in 4-day exercise

TOMAH, Wis. - Armed forces from across the country are in Wisconsin this week to practice responding to natural disasters. 

The exercise put on by the National Guard is called Patriot North. It's taking place at Volk Field, Camp Douglas and Fort McCoy though Thursday.

Local responders get the chance to work with military agencies the same way they would following a disaster. More than 700 people are participating, including emergency management agencies and local law enforcement.  

Similar exercises in other parts of the U.S. prepare for earthquakes or hurricanes, but in Wisconsin, they're practicing responding to flooding and thunderstorms. 

During Tuesday's exercise, a C-130 landed on a dirt assault strip at Fort McCoy. 

Lt. Col. Ashley Nickloes, the Patriot North deputy director, said not a lot of aircraft can get in and out of such a small strip. 

"They'd be bringing in necessary equipment and supplies for anyone who's around here, from food to water. And they're bringing in our special tactics squadron," Nickloes said. "They can get on a helicopter, go down, pick up people that are in a specific flood zone from rooftops." 

 

 

She said beyond the simulated scenarios of high winds and collapsed buildings, one of the biggest benefits of this exercise is getting to know local responders, so if there is a disaster in Wisconsin, she knows who to call.

"The local security forces, police forces, sheriff, you've got the firefighters. You know, if we're not on the same page working together, then we're out doing missions on our own without multiplying the force to save more people," Nickloes said.

One partner ready to be sent to the front lines in any disaster is the Salvation Army. 

"The Salvation Army is probably the secret weapon of a disaster. And when we get deployed, a lot of people think, 'We don’t need a thrift store, we don’t need a bell ringer.' But when we show up, we’re actually going to go there and help people with hydration, feeding, helping with shelter operations, helping with emotional and spiritual care," said John Gantner, an executive director with the Salvation Army in Omaha, Nebraska. 

Gantner came to Wisconsin to participate in Patriot North and meet with other nonprofits eager to help in an emergency. 

"When you get to a disaster site you want to be of use to the people who need it, and a lot of that is preparing before," Ganter said. 

After six summers in Wisconsin, Patriot North will not be returning next year. The National Guard hopes to return again later. 

 

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