FORT LEE, Va. — The Virginia National Guard’s Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team was evaluated as trained and mission capable after a Training Proficiency Evaluation Nov. 19 and 21, 2019, at Fort Lee, Virginia. The evaluation was conducted by the U.S. Army North’s Civil Support Readiness Group – East, which supervised the exercise and validated the unit’s level of readiness.
The mission of the 34th CST is to support civil authorities in a domestic chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive incident, and the evaluated tasks included deploying the team, establishing communications and medical support, conducting survey, technical decontamination and analytical functions as well as conducting interagency coordination.
During the TPE, which is conducted about every 18 months, the CST was evaluated during two training response scenarios on two days at Fort Lee. Both scenarios involved the CST being called in by mock local law enforcement agencies after suspicious devices and substances were discovered at crime scenes. Team members performed reconnaissance on the sites before taking samples and analyzing collected substances to determine the severity of the hazard and the appropriate next steps.
According to Lt. Col. David M. Wheeler, commander of the CST, the positive evaluation means even more when considering how many Soldiers are new to the 22-person team.
“Given that this team has transitioned 40% of its personnel since our last evaluation, I think they did pretty well especially since this was the first event that most personnel have worked together as a unit,” said Wheeler. “Obviously we still have a couple personnel that still have to complete school before the team will be 100%, but all in all I think they did very well.”
Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, commended the team’s efforts.
“We are extremely proud of the outstanding performance by the Soldiers and Airmen of the 34th Civil Support Team during the Training Proficiency Evaluation conducted by U.S. Army North,” said Williams. “The CST is one of our top tier domestic response capabilities, and it is critical they maintain a high state of readiness to be able to assist local, state or federal first responders when needed. The leadership team of the 34th understands that importance, and they make sure the team meets and exceeds the established standards. As always, we are greatly appreciative of the skill and expertise of the ARNORTH evaluators and the invaluable assistance they provide.”
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. For seven of the CST’s team members, this was their first TPE.
“Given these conditions I think they did well. All 57 teams train to the same TEOs, to be plug and play,” said Wheeler. “Even though this was one of the first exercises we have all been together, executing training as sections or individually during FTXs, schools, and stand-by missions, even while separated as we are often required to do, allowed us to meet our overall objectives as a team.”
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.