RICHMOND, Va. –
The Virginia National Guard’s Fort Barfoot-based 34th Civil Support Team was evaluated as trained and mission capable after a Training Proficiency Evaluation Oct. 17 and 19, 2023, in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. The evaluation was conducted by U.S. Army North, which supervised the exercise and validated the unit’s level of readiness.
The mission of the 34th CST is to support civil authorities in a domestic chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive incident, and the evaluated tasks included deploying the team, establishing communications and medical support, conducting survey, technical decontamination and analytical functions as well as conducting interagency coordination.
During the TPE, which is usually conducted about every 18 months, the CST was evaluated during two full-scale training exercises, responding to scenarios involving a mock chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive threat. One of the exercises was conducted at the Petersburg National Battlefield’s Five Forks Unit visitors center, and the other at the Dinwiddie Airport. During the exercises, the CST conducted reconnaissance and sample-collection missions, analyzing collected substances to determine the severity of the hazard and the appropriate next steps, all under the scrutiny of ARNORTH evaluators.
“We are very proud of the men and women of the 34th CST,” said Brig. Gen. Todd Hubbard, the VNG Director of the Joint Staff. “Their performance during this TPE reflects their ability to perform a very complex, technical mission with a high level of proficiency. The team demonstrated an ability to deploy at short notice in support of local, state or federal requirements within the commonwealth or anywhere in the nation.”
Lt. Col. Thomas D. Mecadon, commander of the 34th CST, said countless hours of hard work training and preparing for the event ensured a successful evaluation.
“The 34th CST has trained rigorously over the past several months to achieve success at the TPE,” said Mecadon. “I could not be prouder of them. The truth is that based on our rigorous training schedule over the past six months and the dedication of the team to training, the TPE just felt like another day of training.”
Their ARNORTH-certified success was even more impressive given the relative lack of experience by many of the CST’s members.
“Over the past year, the team has gone through an immense amount of changeover, approximately 50%,” said Mecadon. “The amount of work, time, and preparation they all dedicated to developing as team is not measurable. It is a testament to their dedication to our mission.”
Mecadon singled out Virginia Air National Guard Capt. Samantha Vittorioso, the CST’s science officer, for going above and beyond not just during the formal evaluation, but in the training and preparation leading up to the TPE. One of the veteran members of the CST, Vittorioso was able to leverage her knowledge and experience to help prep the team for the event.
“Her experience of CST operations and application of science to identify CBRN unknowns is crucial to our process and success,” said Mecadon. “However, it was her knowledge and ability to develop realistic training scenarios that got us to completion. She dedicated her time to developing numerous training lanes and full scale exercises which stressed the limits of the team. It was through these exercises we were able to identify shortfalls and make corrections.”
Those realistic training exercises leading up to the TPE ensured his team was ready for anything thrown at them, according to Mecadon.
“The scenarios and agents may have been different and unknown, but nothing presented was new,” he said. “The team approached the evaluation days with flexibility and the knowledge required to overcome the challenges.”
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 Barfoot 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.
Read more about the 34th CST at https://ngpa.us/23991.