NEWS | July 13, 2021

34th CST conducts drug hazard training in Manassas

By Mike Vrabel | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team conducted unique drug identification training and a full-scale response exercise June 22 - 24, 2021, at the Manassas Readiness Center in Manassas, Virginia. 

The 34th CST supports first responders during potential hazardous materials incidents involving possible chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive threats and can identify unknown substances, assess current and projected consequences, advise an incident commander on response measures and assist with requests for additional state support. During this three-day training event, called DrugIQ, the CST focused solely on hazards presented by illegal drugs. 

“We focused on drug identification, clandestine lab identification and threat drug remediation, decontamination, and accidental contamination mitigation,” said Lt. Col. Lyndsey Hodgkins, the commander of the 34th CST. “This was our first training in years that focused solely on drug identification and mitigation.”

The first two days of the DrugIQ course, taught by experts with Federal Resources, were held in the classroom, extensively covering a wide range of potential hazards presented by illegal drugs and their manufacture. The third day of the course challenged the CST with a full-scale response exercise in which the team had to respond to a complex mock drug lab. 

Hodgkins discussed the topics covered by the course and exercise. 

“Drug identification and the effects it has on people under the influence, synthetic opioid considerations and risk assessment; THC extraction; practical application and a field training exercise containing multiple traditional and complex clandestine labs,” said Hodgkins. “This is helpful to the CST mission because we are empowered to identify, assist, assess, and advise incident commanders of the potential impacts to the public. With the knowledge gained from this course we can better advise incident commanders, therefore being a stronger asset to the public as well as operating more safely as a team.”

The full-scale exercise simulated a complex mock drug lab discovered by local authorities under the training scenario. A CST reconnaissance team donned protective gear and used threat identification equipment to determine what substances were involved. They also set up a decontamination station for team members coming out of the suspected lab to ensure their safety. 

Soldiers assigned to the VNG Counterdrug Task Force and agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation were on hand to observe the training, and the CST incorporated simulated response with both agencies during the challenging exercise. 

“Unique challenges were training new personnel, implementing a new emergency decontamination medical process being developed across the 57 CST’s, and integrating Counterdrug, FBI, and Drug Enforcement Administration counterparts,” said Hodgkins. “We overcame these challenges by cross leveling duties and responsibilities, rehearsals and conducting leadership huddles to information share and synchronize ideas.”

Incorporating all elements and conducting a realistic, multi-tiered exercise were vital to improving the CST’s ultimate goal, said Hodgkins. 

“Safety is the bottom line,” said Hodgkins. “Public safety and service member safety.”

The CST’s next training event is scheduled for the end of July 2021 in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. 

The 34th CST 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.

The 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.