Alabama National Guard conducts exercise in preparation for hurricane season

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Maj. Dewana Butler, and other Soldiers and Airmen, take part in the annual HURREX at Joint Force Headquarters, Alabama National Guard, Montgomery, Alabama, June 4, 2015. Photo by Spc. William Frye.

MONTGOMERY, AL (06/05/2015)(readMedia)-- The Joint Operations Center at the Alabama National Guard Joint Force Headquarters here is alive with activity. Soldiers and Airmen fill every inch of the space. They huddle in groups around computer screens pouring over data and emails from the field. The Alabama National Guard's Domestic Operations Group (DOG) is digging into day four of its annual hurricane exercise (HURREX) 2015.

HURREX 2015 is a week-long hurricane response exercise from June 1 to June 7.

The HURREX simulates a hurricane from landfall until six days after to validate the effectiveness of our systems to provide mission command during hurricane response, said Col. Jim Hawkins, senior domestic operations officer.

"We want to make sure the tools we have in place at the DOG and at the local level are in sync, that's why we take the time every year to focus on hurricane exercises," said Lt. Col. Mike Tomberlin with the DOG. "We have outside contractors come in every year to throw all kinds of situations at us, even things that we probably would never see, just to make sure we can respond to anything."

DOG organizes the exercise to remain prepared for any natural disaster that could occur in Alabama.

"HURREX is a DOG driven exercise," said Tomberlin. "The DOG was formed in April 2011 two weeks before the April 27 tornadoes, the worst natural disaster to ever hit the state. The governor and the adjutant general made the decision to have a standing group of people who are always focused on domestic operations whenever an event happens. The April 27 tornado response was recognized as being so good because we already had a group in place working towards things. Domestic response is the single most important mission in the state because we are helping our fellow citizens."

The Alabama Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) is in charge of the state's disaster response, but the Guard plays a major supporting role.

"We support civil authorities through tasking from the AEMA" said Hawkins. "The Guard's job in a natural disaster is to fill any gaps that are outside the capabilities of other state agencies. We provide any support state agencies need. We are likely to assist the Alabama Law Enforcement agency with our Military Police as well as support communities with distribution points passing out food, ice and water. We can do search and rescue and power generation using Army generators. There's a whole host of missions we can do."

The Guard plains and trains rigorously in order to remain in a state of readiness.

"We have a very deliberate process to prepare for hurricanes, which are one of the greatest threats our state can face," said Hawkins. "The National Guard is an intricate part of the states response plain and we go through a deliberate process to make sure we are ready all the way from the headquarters down to the individual soldier."

When the rubber meets the road this type of training benefits the citizens of Alabama in tangible and intangible ways.

"In a disaster situation, when you see the National Guard you start to feel that things are going to get better," said Tomberlin. "We are here to make things better. We serve the citizens. We are citizens ourselves. We care about this state and we see domestic response as one of the most important things we do."