GLEN ALLEN, Va. –
Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the Virginia National Guard’s 34th Civil Support Team joined members of the FBI, the Virginia State Police and local law enforcement in a scenario-based training exercise Oct. 24, 2017, in Glen Allen, Virginia. The exercise, dubbed Marble Challenge and led by the FBI, aimed to increase cohesion between the participating agencies. The 34th CST is a response force capable of responding to a Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear incident. At the exercise, they provided reconnaissance and decontamination support, assisted in collecting and identifying samples and supported incident command.
“The benefit of this is we’re actually integrating with the civilian agencies that we’d actually be working with, explained Maj. Thomas Mecadon, deputy commander of the 34th CST. “This gives us an opportunity to actually integrate with Virginia State Police [Counter-Terrorism and Criminal Interdiction unit] and then also work with the FBI a little bit too.”
In the scenario, state police and FBI agents issued a joint warrant on a property. In the midst of that search, improvised explosives were discovered, as was a possible chemical contamination. Henrico Country’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal team entered the shed, cleared the explosive devices, making way for a survey team – comprised of Virginia State Police, the 34th CST and the FBI. That team surveyed the site, taking photographs and notes on what they saw inside the possible contamination site.
“Another thing they do is analyze for turn-back criteria,” explained Mecadon. He said the 34th CST members use an assortment of tools to monitor the radiation and chemical levels inside of a site, ensuring the safety of the team inside. “At some point in time, the chemicals can get too high and you have to exit.”
Following the site survey, the agencies came together to discuss the way ahead, looking at photographs and discussing what items needed an additional look. Then, state police entered the site with the 34th CST again to take samples of possible contaminants, which the CST then helped to identify.
“This also helps us to exercise our capability,” Mecadon said. “It works out the procedures and processes so it’s a more fluid action when we all get together in the event of a real-world incident.”
The 34th CST is one of 57 Civil Support Teams in the country. The team is comprised of 22 full-time Army and Air National Guard Soldiers and Airmen and is equipped with a wide range of the latest military and commercial CBRN equipment. Their mission is to support civil authorities in the event of a domestic CBRN incident with the identification and assessment of hazards, advice to civil authorities and facilitating the arrival of follow-on military forces. The team maintains a high rate of readiness and can deploy an advance team within 90 minutes of notification with the rest of the team following within three hours. The 34th CST includes six sections: command, operations, communications, administration and logistics, medical and analytical, and survey. Members of the team can scientifically identify nearly all chemical, biological and radiological substances, assess current and projects consequences of those hazardous substances, advise an incident commander on response measures ad assist with requests for additional support.