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St. Louis and Whiteman Air Guard units take part in Vigilant Guard exercise

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo -- More than 300 Airmen from St. Louis-area and Whiteman Air Force Base Missouri Air National Guard units are taking part in the statewide earthquake response exercise dubbed Vigilant Guard.

The Nov. 3-7 exercise is designed to test the National Guard response to a large magnitude earthquake along the New Madrid Seismic Zone in southeast Missouri. Under the exercise scenario, public utilities have been disrupted and there is severe, wide-spread infrastructure damage across the entire region. Air and Army National Guard units from around the state will participate, including the 131st Bomb Wing and its St. Louis-based subordinate units.

Senior Master Sgt. Timothy Banks, emergency manager for the 131st, said Jefferson Barracks in south St. Louis County will become an emergency operations communications center for earthquake response.

"In a real earthquake situation there would be no cell phone towers and no regular phone service," said Banks. "And because this is an earthquake exercise, we're going to assume that our building at Jefferson Barracks is destroyed, so we're going to use our mobile emergency operations center."

The high-tech trailer, nicknamed the "Kit Bond kit," provides both voice and computer satellite communications, allowing the Air Guard to coordinate the military emergency earthquake response throughout the state.

"The Joint Operations Center in Jefferson City will task out orders - be-prepared type of missions - to the Air Guard's emergency operations center at Jefferson Barracks," explained Banks. "It will then be our job to disseminate those orders to the appropriate organization or unit that can respond."

Banks said the mock missions might entail everything from removing earthquake debris to conducting door to door health and wellness checks on local residents.

Missouri Air Guard units participating in the exercise include the 131st Bomb Wing, the 157th Air Operations Group, the 121st Air Control Squadron, the 231st Civil Engineer Flight and the 239th Combat Communications Squadron.