SAN ANTONIO, Texas –
Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team conducted a multi-day training exercise to simulate a response to hazardous materials incident June 22-28, 2017, in San Antonio, Texas. Observer controller/trainers from U.S. Army North’s Civil Support Readiness Group-East/West were on hand to assist with the creation of a realistic scenario and provide feedback to help the 34th CST maintain a high state of readiness for their mission of providing support to first responders in potential biological, chemical, nuclear, radiological and explosive incidents.
The training event helped prepare the new members of the CST for a collective lanes training event in August 2017, and it allowed the CST to verify their air load movement plan that enables them to respond to incidents all over the country.
“The training event was challenging with regards to conducting an actual air load and movement, executing training lanes and then move by air back to home station,” said Lt. Col. David M. Wheeler, commander of the 34th CST. “The team pulled it off flawlessly, there were challenges to overcome, and they executed effortlessly.”
The exercise in San Antonio and the lanes training in August will help put the CST on the right path to prepare for their external evaluation in April 2018, Wheeler said. The CST is externally evaluated every 18 months to validate that they are able to effectively execute their mission.
The multi-day training event incorporated deployment and redeployment of equipment by air, as well as a two-day training exercise with refit in between.
The 34th CST evaluated their air load movement plan that they are required to validate annually. The unit deployed five trucks and three trailers as well as equipment that provides communication, lab analysis, chemical decontamination and on-site medical attention.
The 105th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard and the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia National Guard provided C-17 support to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas while the 204th Airlift Squadron of the Hawaii Air National Guard and the 164th Airlift Wing of the Tennessee Air National Guard provide C-17 support back to Langley, Virginia.
On June 23, 2017, the 34th CST took chemical and radiological readings of suspicious abandoned backpacks and of laboratory equipment in a San Antonio-based high school. According to the exercise scenario, the local and area HAZMAT teams were responding to a major train derailment that occurred nearby. Texas State Emergency Management requested the support of the 34th CST that was known to be deployed to San Antonio.
“All of our Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams have a tremendous capability and do great work for each state and maintain a deployment capability, and the 34th CST from Virginia is no different,” said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the Commanding General of U.S. Army North, during a training visit June 23.”We at ARNORTH are responsible for developing and unifying the military response capability for CBRNE incidents and we assist in training the teams. Although Civil Support Teams typically deploy within their state it’s important for the CSTs to practice their air load movement plan.”
On June 26, 2017, the 34th CST responded to an unidentified white-powder substance in a Fort Sam Houston, Texas office building. To identify the white powder in question, the Joint Chemical Agent Detector was used.
The JCAD is a hand-held device that automatically detects, identifies and alerts the operator to the presence of nerve and blister agent vapors, as well as one blood chemical agent vapor and one toxic industrial chemical vapor. This particular exercise tested the 34th CST on their ability to arrive at the incident site and quickly identify where to establish the medical and decontamination elements as the area of operation was very limited in space.
The 34th CST operations had not only the smaller than usual footprint to consider, but also had to account for drainage so the area’s drinking-water supply was not contaminated with potential hazardous substances.
The 34th CST members are full-time National Guard members. Each state in the United States has similar capabilities. The unit’s role is to respond to a location and assist the incident commander by providing the situational analysis needed for decision making and timely response. The team consists of 22 full-time Army and Air National Guard personnel. The team is equipped with a variety of the latest military and commercial CBRN equipment and maintains on-call team members prepared to deploy an advance team within 90 minutes of notification, with the main body following within three hours.