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News | April 26, 2024

Wisconsin Guard, law enforcement team up for public safety training

By Vaughn R. Larson

Approximately 230 Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers, mostly from the 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, trained shoulder to shoulder with roughly 75 law enforcement officers — many from the Milwaukee Police Department and metro area, as well as others from Marathon and Wood counties and the city of Janesville — as part of a joint exercise April 5 at the Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis.

The purpose of the exercise was to validate civilian unified command in the event the Wisconsin National Guard is called to state active duty for civil unrest. Soldiers and law enforcement officers spent the day working through training scenarios involving looting and rioting.

“I found the professionalism and buy-in from Milwaukee Police Department lieutenants and captains to be top-notch,” said Capt. Raymond Johns, who was a planner and controller for the joint exercise. “Their interest in past lessons learned and commitment to partner with Soldiers was excellent.”

Guard members played multiple roles in the exercise, taking turns as a reaction force (NGRF) with face and body shields as well as role-playing looters, demonstrators and even “citizen journalists” documenting the events at street level.

If called to state active duty in response to civil unrest, National Guard members support local authorities and their efforts to protect life and property. Understanding how their partners from civilian agencies operate improves the effectiveness of the Guard mission. Similarly, law enforcement learned what Guard members can and cannot do in a supporting role.

“Training alongside law enforcement gave both organizations greater insight into one another’s tactics, techniques and procedures, and allowed us to have a far deeper discussion regarding capabilities, equipment and options, especially at the ‘on the street’ level,” Johns said. “During the planning phase, police officers were able to gain valuable insights into how we plan training while Guard officers and noncommissioned officers were able to better understand the tactical aspects of crowd management from a police perspective.”

Johns credited Wisconsin Emergency Management — which, like the Wisconsin National Guard, is part of the state Department of Military Affairs — with making the connections between the Guard and local law enforcement for this event, and providing a framework to plan the training.

“The assistant chief of police was vocal about wanting to build on this exercise in the future and continue to develop the partnership between law enforcement and the Guard,” Johns said.

Chris Trossen, a training officer with Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM), said the Milwaukee Police Department had reached out to Wisconsin National Guard operations and training section members to organize a joint training event. WEM exercise officers were included in the discussion.

“We helped birth the process, started them on the road to planning, managed the planning meetings and let them work out their goals and objectives,” Trossen said. “We weren’t running it — we were just there to assist.”

Trossen and his teammates are still compiling an after-action report on the exercise, but initial feedback was positive. Communication between police and Guard forces was one area that improved as the day progressed.

“At first it was unfamiliarity with the process — not a lot of communication between NGRF and police mobile field forces,” Trossen said. “It wasn’t a technology issue, it was learning how to talk to each other.”

Johns observed that the posture of reaction forces has a tangible influence on those creating a civil disturbance.

“Even in a simulated environment, mob mentality can take over,” Johns said. “That is doubly true in real life.”

Police and Guard forces who presented a more aggressive posture when arriving on the scene were often met with more rapid and extreme escalation by the simulated demonstrators, Johns said.

“While maintaining a safe protective posture is important, we need to be careful not to create violent crowds out of peaceful ones as we perform our NGRF mission,” he said.

An unexpected fire alarm during the exercise forced the command centers for both the police and the Guard to evacuate their building. Even so, Trossen said both command groups maintained communication with their forces and managed the situation.

“The training was good,” Trossen said. “We’ll see what the critical needs are after the after action review is completed.”