QRF (Quick Reaction Force) Training

Sgt. Jason Allen, chainsaw operator and bandsman, 40th Army Band, cuts through trees that block a road during quick reaction force training at Camp Ethan Allen Training Site, July 31, 2015, Jericho, Vt. The 40th Army Band is training as the quick reaction force for a defense support of civil authorities exercise. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Nathan Rivard)

Story by Staff Sgt. Nathan Rivard

JERICHO, Vt. - The Vermont National Guard recently took part in a Defense Support of Civil Authorities exercise throughout Vermont. The National Guard uses the exercise to practice supporting civilian authorities in the event of disasters. The quick reaction force, QRF, is one of the most important tools for responding to a natural disaster.

“This is what we train for,” said Maj. Joseph Colantoni, 86th Troop Command executive officer and a coordinator for DSCA event. “Over the last 13-14 years, we’ve been training to go to war. Well, the National Guard is the defender of the homeland, we respond when local support, the Vermont emergency management, they have a giant architecture, but when that is stressed by multiple events or a catastrophic event, we’re here and this is what we do.”

The 40th Army Band is the QRF assigned to this scenario and they are not new to
working during emergencies. They were activated during Tropical Storm Irene. This
exercise is increasing their skill set to include operating chainsaws.

“It’s good experience for us,” said Warrant Officer Phil Mears, executive officer, 40th
Army Band. “Some of our people don’t normally use a chainsaw, they take training with the National Guard to learn safety and proper cutting techniques. It’s good for us to get out and actually see trees in the kinds of positions that we would in a real situation.”

The QRF conducted this training at Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho, Vermont.
They were clearing fallen tress to open multiple roads that were impassable.

“Bringing some of the less experienced people, we have some guys that just qualified
on chainsaw, while I grew up in Vermont on an apple orchard and we used chainsaws
quite often when I was young, so just trying to share the experience,” said Staff Sgt.
Walter Ochs, trombonist and chainsaw operator, 40th Army Band. “We want to be at
our best, so it’s good to get more experience and be more comfortable with our role
when that emergency comes up.”

The QRF has to be ready to do more than just open roads. Colantoni said the unit is
trained on a variety of tasks like riot control, traffic control points, chainsaw operations, route reconnaissance, and helicopter operations.

The quick reaction force are the men and women on the ground, but when they need to get supplies somewhere quick, they look to the skies.

“Whether it’s the Bambi Bucket fighting fires, whether it’s the trailer and medical
supplies, we’re talking not hours, we’re talking minutes,” said Sgt. Carlton Quenneville, Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment (Air Ambulance). This allows them to react faster. They are able to load an aircraft and attach an external load to get more supplies to their destination faster.

The QRF also trains with sling load operations because there are places a helicopter
can reach that a military vehicle cannot.

“For Irene it took days to get to the top of Killington,” said Colantoni. “Now we’ll have
the ability to fly to the top of Killington, drop loads of water, of blankets, whatever
Killington actually needs. These guys will be able to get in there, be able to do it, [and]
reduce the stress on the community.”

The Soldiers of the 40th Army Band know it is only a matter of time before an
emergency happens and they want to be ready.
“Mother Nature likes to have her fun and it’s important that they’re ready because they
never know when its going to happen” said Sgt. 1st Class Erin Graham, bandsman,
40th Army Band. They want to be have as many different skills as possible whether it is chainsaw operation, loading helicopters or driving through difficult terrain.

“The band is an important organization,” said Quenneville. “They’ve been used for
helping with Irene and getting supplies set for that. So having that asset and when you
need personnel they’re there and the more training they have the better off we all are
too. Because now we don’t have to rely on somebody else to come here, get it ready,
and find our own personnel.”

While the National Guard has spent more than a decade assisting missions abroad,
local missions are just as vital.

“It’s important for the community to know that when something bad happens, they
have that back up,” said 1st Sgt. Douglas Thorton, 40th Army Band 1st Sgt. Sometimes civilian agencies are overwhelmed and they can provide extra manpower and expertise to help during emergencies.

“It gets us prepared to help the communities to that we live in and serve in,” said