FORT PICKETT, Va. –
Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the Virginia National Guard’s Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team continue to balance multi-agency training and real-world support missions after an exercise with the Virginia State Police in early November at Fort Pickett, Virginia, and supporting the state funeral of President George H.W. Bush Dec. 5, 2018, in Washington, D.C.
“It was an honor for us to be part of the military support President Bush’s funeral, and it was also an opportunity for us to work with federal law enforcement agencies as well as the D.C. Guard’s 33rd CST, and members from Maryland National Guard’s 32nd CST and the Deleweare National Guard’s 31st CST,” explained Lt. Col. David Wheeler, commander of the 34th CST. “Our teams provided personnel that made up rapid detection teams that were also augmented with members local federal law enforcement agencies and fire departments. Teams provided on site CBRN monitoring and hazardous material support to ensure the safety and protection of all visitors attending the event.”
District of Columbia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen provided security, transportation and disaster response capabilities during the state funeral and joined with multiple agencies including the D.C. Homeland Security Emergency Management Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Metropolitan Police Department, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services and the U.S. Park Police to provide safety and security for people attending activities in and around the National Capital Region during the event.
The 34th conducted a three-day exercise at Fort Pickett in early November with the Virginia State Police Clandestine Lab Response Team where the two organizations shared best practices and educated each other about their different missions. The VSP CLRT normally responds to incidents involving drug-making labs where the 34th trains to respond to potential chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive incidents.
“This training was part of annual certification, but also provided us with a joint operation training opportunity,” explained VSP 1st Sgt. James Robinson. “A lot of the labs we are seeing now blur the lines and aren’t just drug labs, but might have explosives as well.”
Robinson said the joint training exercise improves team integration and helps the two organizations understand each other’s capabilities before an incident happens.
“If we see something we don’t recognize or if we get into a bigger scene where we need more people, we can pull additional resources like the 34th CST,” Robinson said.
“Our goal was to build on our relationship with the VSP and to get our survey team members more familiar with drug labs since that is not something we train with regularly, explained Capt. Samantha Vittorioso, the 34th’s nuclear medicine science officer and co-action officer for the exercise. “We also learned about their practices and how they might be different from ours when we sample or mitigate a lab so if we see it, we know what to do, and if they see it, they know what the risks are.”
The 34th was evaluated as fully trained on 12 essential collective tasks after conducting a Training Proficiency Evaluation May 22 and 24, 2018, in Dinwiddie County and Hanover County, Virginia. The evaluation was supervised by U.S. Army North’s Civil Support Readiness Group-East in order to validate the unit’s level of readiness.
Approximately every 18 months, the 34th CST conducts an external evaluation, and 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.
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.