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Warfighters sharpen skills during Vigilant Shield

Staff Sgt. Xavier Goco monitors radiation levels and tests for potential contamination using a high volume air sampling monitor and an ADM-300 at a simulated aircraft crash site on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Dec. 4 during Vigilant Shield 07. Vigilant Shield 07 is a joint nuclear weapon accident exercise designed to train Department of Defense and federal agencies on response efforts as a cohesive team. The exercise involved a variety of agencies representing the county, state and federal governments. Sergeant Goco is assigned to the 355th Aerospace Medicine Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Alesia Goosic)

Staff Sgt. Xavier Goco monitors radiation levels and tests for potential contamination using a high volume air sampling monitor and an ADM-300 at a simulated aircraft crash site on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Dec. 4 during Vigilant Shield 07. Vigilant Shield 07 is a joint nuclear weapon accident exercise designed to train Department of Defense and federal agencies on response efforts as a cohesive team. The exercise involved a variety of agencies representing the county, state and federal governments. Sergeant Goco is assigned to the 355th Aerospace Medicine Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Alesia Goosic)

A firefighter assesses the condition of a simulated survivor found at the scene of an aircraft accident Dec. 4 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., during Vigilant Shield 07. Vigilant Shield 07 is a joint nuclear weapon accident exercise designed to train Department of Defense and federal agencies on response efforts as a cohesive team. The exercise involved a variety of agencies representing the county, state and federal governments. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christina D. Ponte)

A firefighter assesses the condition of a simulated survivor found at the scene of an aircraft accident Dec. 4 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., during Vigilant Shield 07. Vigilant Shield 07 is a joint nuclear weapon accident exercise designed to train Department of Defense and federal agencies on response efforts as a cohesive team. The exercise involved a variety of agencies representing the county, state and federal governments. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christina D. Ponte)

Airmen 1st Class Bryan Keith and Lawrence Ackerman check the area for contamination prior to setting up the contamination control station Dec. 4 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., during Vigilant Shield 07. Vigilant Shield 07 is a joint nuclear weapon accident exercise designed to train Department of Defense and federal agencies on response efforts as a cohesive team. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christina D. Ponte)

Airmen 1st Class Bryan Keith and Lawrence Ackerman check the area for contamination prior to setting up the contamination control station Dec. 4 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., during Vigilant Shield 07. Vigilant Shield 07 is a joint nuclear weapon accident exercise designed to train Department of Defense and federal agencies on response efforts as a cohesive team. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Christina D. Ponte)

TYNDALL AFB, Fla. (AFPN) -- Warfighters assigned to Air Forces Northern and Continental U.S. NORAD Region are honing the skills needed to respond to such threats during Vigilant Shield 07 which began Dec. 4 and runs through Dec. 14 here.

The annual homeland defense Vigilant Shield exercise, sponsored by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Strategic Command, tests the synchronization of the three commands in responding to complex scenarios that challenge the homeland defense matrix in the U.S. and Canada.

Sor far in the exercise, those inolved have dealt with a major aircraft accident involving nuclear weapons, worked to intercept foreign aircraft penetrating U.S. airspace, dealt with a murder-suicide and monitored deteriorating world events that are teetering North America on the brink of nuclear war.

The two-week exercise challenges the joint team's ability to respond to asymmetric, around-the-clock attacks to better practice crucial warfighting skills, said Col. Mike Beale, Contingency Action Team director for Vigilent Shield.

"I've worked on many staffs in my 25 years of service and this is one of the most challenging and rewarding assignments I've been associated with," Colonel Beale said.

"The U.S. and North America are becoming increasingly hardened targets for any adversary, and our homeland defense is comprehensive, sophisticated and effective, but only because we train the way we fight, and that's what we're doing right now."

Vigilant Shield scenarios are challenging USNORTHCOM's command and control matrix and their ability to provide defense support to the nation during a potential limited ballistic missile attack and maritime domain threat. The Colorado Springs-based command is also exercising its role in supporting a lead agency in response to a simulated nuclear weapons accident.

At the national level Vigilant Shield engages all military services, including Canadian forces in the U.S. and at the Canadian, Alaskan and U.S. NORAD regions. Governmental agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Energy, are working in conjunction with the State of Arizona and the city of Tucson, Ariz., to improve interagency cooperation while cementing relationships between local, state and federal agencies in response to real-world incidents.

"Exercises like this help us protect Americans where they work and live," Colonel Beale said. "Working with our sister services and national responders fosters the interagency cooperation that is so vital to ensuring homeland security."