SATERN and the Patriot North 2017 Exercise

by Scott Reusch, W9JU
Wisconsin / Upper Michigan
SATERN Divisional Coordinator

Last July a number of SATERN Communicators from the Midwest had the opportunity to participate in the Patriot North 2017 Exercise in Southwestern Wisconsin at Volk Field and Fort McCoy. The Patriot North is a Domestic Operation (DOMOPS) training exercise sponsored by the National Guard Bureau (NGB) and accredited as a Joint Training Program by the Joint National Training Capability (JNTC) Program. It provides a forum for coordination with Local, State, Federal government and civilian organizations to increase the understanding of coordination, policies and procedures required for joint inter–agency response per Defense Support to Civilian Authorities (DSCA) governance. This year the exercise was held July 17–20, 2017 for the portion the Salvation Army participated in.

My biggest take away from the Patriot North 2017 Exercise was how everyone pitched in and helped wherever it was needed.W9JU

Volk Field Air National Guard Base is a military airport located near Camp Douglas, WI. It is also known as the Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center (CRTC). The base also houses Camp Williams, which is supported by the Wisconsin Army National Guard. The Wisconsin National Guard Museum is located at Volk Field. It contains aircraft, helicopters, artillery, and armored vehicles used by the Wisconsin National Guard over its existence.

Fort McCoy is a United States Army installation. It is located on 60,000 acres between Sparta and Tomah, WI. Since its creation in 1909, the post has been used primarily as a military training center. Fort McCoy is about 25 miles west of Volk Field.

The Patriot North training endeavors to exercise military, local authority and civilian response to disaster situations. An Army website article by Scott Sturkol describes the scope of effort this way, “The exercise, operated mainly from Volk Field near Camp Douglas, WI, included more than 900 civilians, volunteers, and National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from more than 20 states supporting the training. Approximately 200–plus service members held their part of the Patriot North training at Fort McCoy, said Lt. Col. Mickey Kirschenbaum, public affairs officer for the exercise.” The Salvation Army’s contingent consisted of 38 individuals of which nine were SATERN Communicators. The following SATERN Communicators that participated were:

  Mike Asselta (KD0CDQ) - Kansas
  Mark Burke (W9MGB) - Indiana 
  Jared Polack (N0JMP) - Nebraska
  Don Prosser (KB9IAR) - Michigan
  Scott Ruesch (W9JU) - Wisconsin
  Eugene Schoeppner (KB0QEY) - Nebraska
  Tony Stokes (KU9V) - Indiana
  Eileen VanLent (KE0EQY) - Nebraska
  Bert Williams (KC9QTA) – Indiana

Army Barracks

The goals for SATERN from the Salvation Army’s perspective were to basically establish ham radio communications for the Salvation Army. This included establishing a Net Control station at Volk Field and placing a communications trailer in operation at Fort McCoy. In addition, three canteens at Volk Field had communications with Net Control and one canteen at Fort McCoy had communications with the communications trailer set up nearby. Lastly, Incident Command (IC), Operations and Logistics/Safety each had communications established with Net Control.

The communications plan was to use 2m simplex at Volk Field and the use of a local repeater to maintain contact between Net Control at Volk Field and the communications trailer at Fort McCoy. The area in Southwestern Wisconsin is part of the Driftless Area from the period of the last glaciers and therefore the area is surrounded by a number of bluffs that impede communications. Because of these land features a handheld radio (HT) with a standard rubber duck antenna was only marginally useful. The use of a magnetic mount antenna attached to the HT greatly improved performance, but it kept the SATERN Communicator tethered to a vehicle unless they switched back to the inferior rubber duck antenna. One individual was able to cross–band his HT to a mobile rig in a go–kit which was ideal. It gave the power of a mobile ham radio yet the SATERN Communicator was still able to walk around freely using an HT.

SATERN held a meeting in the middle of the first day which was set up day. It was held in Building 138 and was to be used as Net Control. Building 138 is normally used as a computer classroom by the military and they were gracious enough to allow us to use the facility as Net Control. It was at that time everyone was introduced to each other and job assignments were doled out. Each SATERN Communicator was assigned a position. These included Net Control, shadows for the command vehicles and the canteens. Also at this meeting the frequencies to be used were discussed and the various protocols to be used when communicating over the radio. Tactical names were given to the various positions in an effort to better identify who was calling Net Control.

Net Control

There were some difficulties to overcome before all communications were set. One of the first issues involved the antenna setup at Net Control in Building 138. The 2m antenna mast was erected and guyed. The distance from the antenna to the building required two lengths of coax. Unfortunately no barrel connector could be found. After a lot of asking around including the military communications units, we were finally able to procure the appropriate connectors from a Salvation Army communications trailer. The second issue arose when trying to set up the mobile go–kit radio in the Logistics/Safety vehicle. We opened the hood and guess what, no battery. We then opened the back and looked under the mats for a panel and still no battery. There were two posts under the hood for jump starting the vehicle, but we found out that these were designed to allow power in, but not to allow power out. We were spinning our wheels when someone checked the internet. Sure enough there were instructions for the battery on this vehicle. The battery was located under the floorboards behind the passenger seat and in front of the seat behind it. Naturally the access cover required Torx drivers to remove it. Fortunately one of the canteens had a toolbox that had Torx drivers and we were back in business. This shows just how much teamwork comes into play for these events. When an issue arose we all rallied together to found a solution.

The scenario for the exercise was that widespread damage from heavy rain, high winds and flooding had overwhelmed the local civilian authorities. The damage included collapsed structures, contaminated areas, impacted infrastructure, inoperable communications, mass casualties and the need for mass care and evacuation.

It is important to understand that while we were specifically SATERN for this exercise, we still helped out in other areas such as loading ice and unloading a bulk delivery truck of food. We also helped clean up the facility before we left. It wasn’t all just radio!

So, how did a typical day go?

Some individuals had to get ready earlier than others because they had to travel from Volk Field to Fort McCoy. We would meet at Runways Edge first thing in the morning to assist in loading the canteens. Runways Edge has a commercial kitchen that was provided for us by the military in which to prepare food. It also contained a large meeting room where the lunches were packed and staged, and served as our debrief facility at the end of each day. The days were hot and a little humid (by Wisconsin standards) with temperatures in the 90’s.

At about this time the SATERN Communicators also checked in with Net Control to ensure effective communications were established prior to entering the field.

In the field meant different things for the different positions. Net Control pretty much spent his time in Building 138. Likewise, the SATERN Communicator manning the communications trailer at Fort McCoy stayed tied to that unit. The SATERN Communicator in Operations remained at Runways Edge because he also happened to be the Operations Chief and was in charge of the kitchen. These positions naturally were not mobile.

Net Control

The SATERN Communicators assigned to a canteen went wherever the canteen went. Canteen Heartland covered the eastern portion of the airport runway where Blackhawk helicopters were being deployed for evacuation use. Heartland also serviced the nearby water purification station which was purifying water being drawn from a pond by reverse osmosis. Canteen LaCrosse covered the central area of the air strip in which Chinook helicopters were in service. LaCrosse also provided aid to the chaplain’s tent and areas being used by contractors assisting the military. Canteen Northern was located north of the airfield. It is in this area where there are numerous mock–ups to assist in training. Northern was servicing an area which was simulating a large amount of debris such as that encountered during 9–11. Canteen Sauk was located at Fort McCoy and assisted military personnel at the dirt airfield located there. It was really interesting to watch C–130 planes take off and land. The cloud of dust was immense. Sauk also supplied refreshments to water rescue operations being conducted with Lakota helicopters at nearby Big Sandy Lake.

The SATERN Communicators that functioned as shadows for Incident Command and Logistics/Safety literally followed those officers around wherever they went. We were their communications arm and stayed close by at all times. The shadows also did a lot of emergency expediting. If a canteen needed something, typically one of the command vehicles with shadow in tow would bring whatever was needed to them rather than to force the canteen to make an unscheduled returned to home base at Runways Edge. For example, one of the command vehicles was designated to deliver the lunches to the Sauk canteen at Fort McCoy each day.

At the end of the day all vehicles would return to Runways Edge for debriefing. We would discuss what went well and also what needed improvement for the following day. Interestingly, on two of the nights strong thunderstorms rolled through about the time of debrief.

Overall it was a great experience to participate in the Patriot North 2017 Exercise. It gave one the opportunity to put into practice SATERN capabilities under the most realistic conditions. I spent many years in nuclear power and one of the overriding principles was to train how you operate and likewise operate how you have been trained. It is because of this that it is important that SATERN Communicators adhere to this same principle. That’s where practice comes in. Please participate in the various SATERN nets. Make yourself available for other Salvation Army related activities so that you do not become one dimensional with radio only. Volunteer for various training exercises such as the Patriot North if the opportunity arises. I encourage you to get involved to keep your skills sharp.

Net Control

It is also important to have the proper radio equipment at the ready and able to be used at a moment’s notice. The Central Territory has a manual for SATERN, “Logistics in Disaster Relief Operations: A Field Operations Manual for the SATERN Communicator”. The manual delineates specifically what the SATERN Communicator is required to bring with him in the form of a go–kit. The manual also describes what radio equipment the various positions are to have available at a minimum. In other words, the SATERN Communicator is expected to bring more than the minimum because the minimum for the positions listed may not always be enough to establish adequate communications for the situation at hand. The worst scenario would be to arrive for an actual deployment as SATERN and not bring the right equipment for adequate radio communications.

My biggest take away from the Patriot North 2017 Exercise was how everyone pitched in and helped wherever it was needed. And this is the way it should be. Teamwork is the key to success.





Rev. 1.00 2018-03-01 AD5XJ