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Gallant Fox III brings first responders to Pentagon

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

ARLINGTON, Va. (June 09, 2005) -- A dozen bodies lay strewn on a patch of grass near the bus stop outside the Pentagon on June 8. Some of them cried out for help.

Nearby, that help was quickly arriving. Firetrucks, ambulances and other first responders arrived on the scene from local municipalities, including Arlington, Fairfax and Alexandria, Va., and responders from Maryland and Washington, D.C.

This was no tragedy, however. Instead, first responders from around the region had been invited by the Pentagon Force Protection Agency to participate in Gallant Fox III, an exercise preparing them to respond to a real tragedy.

"This is the largest (exercise) we have held so far, with the largest number of participants and the largest number of simultaneous incidents happening in Arlington County and at the Pentagon reservation," said Brett Eaton, information and communications officer for Washington Headquarters Services. "The intent is to improve the connectivity and coordination between participating agencies."

As part of the Gallant Fox III exercise, armed assailants attempted to gain access to the Pentagon. Simulated gunfire from that scenario kicked off the exercise. Another scenario involved a suicide bomber on one of the buses that services the Pentagon. Other scenarios played out at the Navy Annex near the Pentagon and at one of the leased office spaces in nearby Crystal City.

About a dozen municipal and federal agencies from around the National Capital Region supplied firefighters, firefighting equipment and vehicles, police officers, ambulances and emergency medical technicians for the exercise.

Getting hundreds of participants to communicate might seem like an impediment to a successful exercise, but really, it was the purpose of the exercise, said Bob Gray, Arlington County Fire Department battalion chief.

"What we get a chance to do here is try out our communications mechanisms and our actual service mechanisms, to make sure they work together for a real incident," he said.

The event also gave first responders a chance to meet each other before a truly demanding situation arises.

"First responders get a knowledge of where they would actually go in a real word event and get to see each other face to face to see who they have been talking to on the phone and who they would work with in a real emergency," Mr. Eaton said.

The Gallant Fox III exercise kicked off at the Pentagon at about 10 a.m. and ran until 2 that afternoon. Exercise participants attended a hotwash following the exercise to discuss what went right and what could be improved, said John Jester, Pentagon Force Protection Agency chief.

"We learn a lot from these exercises," he said. "You look at command and control issues. You're looking at communications issues. You are looking at issues of training for individuals. And you only learn these things when you exercise. You can't do them in your mind."