RICHMOND, Virginia—Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team conducted hazardous materials identification and response training Sept. 24, 2019, at Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia, and Sept. 26, at the Prince George Wellness Center in Disputanta, Virginia.
The 34th CST supports first responders in potential hazardous materials incidents involving possible chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive threats.
“They will call us to come in and assist with the identification of the unknown agent in order to give them some control measure to help get that situation under control,” explained Army Lt. Col. David Wheeler, the 34th CST commander. “We will identify that agent and where it’s coming from and report back to the incident commander on the ground to provide him or her with mitigation factors on how best to go forward to protect the public, the infrastructure and the community around the area.”
Army Capt. Samantha Vittorioso is the science officer for the 34th CST and the training demonstrated the teamwork required between various sections for the success of the team.
“As the science officer, you’re trying to help the survey section so they take the right sample and you’re working with the medical section to make sure the signs and symptoms of the patients match what they’re seeing down range,” she said. “At the same time, you’re trying to keep the operations section involved and aware so they can get the right resources if needed.”
“We’re trying to see if what we see downrange makes sense with what the signs and symptoms are,” said Vittorioso, who has been with the 34th CST for two years and previously served on CSTs in Massachusetts and Guam. “If not, we know something’s missing so the survey team’s going in to try to find the missing piece.”
This training was in preparation for the 34th CST’s external evaluation in November. Approximately every 18 months, the 34th CST conducts an external evaluation where they are evaluated on 12 different collective tasks including deploying the team, establishing communications and medical support, conducting technical decontamination, CBRN assessments and analytical functions as well as conducting interagency coordination.
A team from U.S. Army North’s Civil Support Readiness Group – East, Southeast Division was on hand to observe the training and provide feedback to the unit’s commander to help prepare the team for their external evaluation.
“This training was unique in the fact that it not only prepared our unit for our upcoming Training Proficiency Exercise but this particular CLT was more difficult as it focused not only on our core mission but also in the unity of the group since our recent turnover,” Wheeler said.
The 34th CST last completed an external evaluation in May 2018.
The 34th CST is one of 57 such units in the country and is equipped with a wide range of the latest military and commercial equipment CBRN equipment. It is made up of 22 full-time Army and Air National Guard personnel who bring a wide range of military skills as well as career experience from the civilian sector. The unit is divided into six sections: command, operations, communications, administration/logistics, medical/analytical and survey.
Each team member completes between 500 and 900 hours of specialized training during their first year of assignment and continues advanced training throughout their tenure with multiple agencies including the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the National Fire Academy, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The team’s primary response area includes a 300-mile radius from its home station at Fort Pickett and stretches as far north as Pennsylvania and as far south as South Carolina. They maintain personnel on standby at all times, can deploy an advance team within 90 minutes of notification and the main body deploys within three hours.
A unit’s assigned transportation includes a command vehicle, operations trailer, a communications vehicle called the unified command suite which provides a broad spectrum of secure communications capabilities, an analytical laboratory system vehicle containing a full suite of analysis equipment to support the complete characterization of an unknown hazard and several general purpose vehicles. The CST normally deploys using its assigned vehicles, but it can be airlifted as required.