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NEWS | Sept. 1, 2022

34th CST tackles maritime operations in Maine

By Mike Vrabel | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airman assigned to the Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team joined with their counterparts from the Maine National Guard for a maritime training exercise Aug. 1-5, 2022, in South Portland, Maine. 

Working along side with the Maine-based 11th CST, the joint team conducted reconnaissance surveys and sample collection from a simulated Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear threat aboard the U. S. Coast Guard Cutter Marcus Hanna, providing a unique environment for the CST’s experts to practice their craft. 

According to Lt. Col. Lyndsey Hodgkins, the commander of the 34th CST, the maritime environment and joint training provided a valuable and rare opportunity for her team. 

“The main training objective was to integrate with another CST who was well versed in maritime operations,” said Hodgkins. “We adopted their standard operating procedure and tactics, techniques and procedures. The Maine CST routinely trains on maritime operations. The 34th has conducted maritime operations once in the past eight years in Portsmouth, Virginia. With the tools and experience we gathered from the 11th CST, we will be better prepared to integrate with the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Being able to train side-by-side with a CST which routinely practices operations on ships was beneficial not just for the experience of training in a new environment, but also for the chance to see how another CST conducts their operations. 

 “The 57 CSTs receive the same basic training, but we all operate differently based off of experience and climate,” explained Hodgkins. “Integration and TTP alignment are always the key to the success when operating in the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Response Enterprise. The interaction and teamwork were professional and inspiring between the 34th and the 11th CSTs. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Anthony Sturgis, Survey Team Leader for the 11th CST, was the exercise developer who facilitated this event. He developed the ropes training for casualty recovery as well as mentored the 34th survey team led by Staff Sgt. Ethan Vass.”

That ropes training provided a challenge for the CST, one which saw them learn the ins and outs of evacuating a casualty from the tight quarters of a ship, augmenting similar training the 34th CST has practiced previously. 

“We left with more confidence in our ability to integrate with the USCG as well as refreshing our previous ropes training for personnel extraction,” said Hodgkins.

Hodgkins said the training will help the 34th CST be better prepared for integration with other teams as a result of the exercise in Maine. 

“We had the challenge of integrating two operations cells. We discovered that sending someone forward with survey operations bridged the gap in both operations as well as communications,” she said. “We exercised our PACE plan, relayed information back to the operational footprint, identified the threat downrange, and as a result were able to advise the decontamination section on the method for individual decontamination.”

In addition to the technical training, Hodgkins said the team convoyed roughly 1,400 miles without incident for the event, citing their drivers training and maintenance programs for the safe passage.

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.

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