RALEIGH, N.C. – Civil Support Teams (CSTs) are a relatively unknown asset to the citizens of our state as it pertains to Chemical, Biological, Radiological, or Nuclear incidents.
Recently members of the North Carolina National Guard’s 42nd Civil Support Team took part in a National Guard Bureau proficiency training evaluation of their skills at a facility in Hoke County.
The purpose of the evaluation was to test the unit’s ability to assist, assess and advise local first responders on hazards that may be beyond their capability or scope.
The Greenville-based unit is a state asset under the operational control of the N.C. Guard and is designed to augment and support emergency first responder functions with their special equipment and expertise.
“The scenario consisted of an [simulated] improvised explosive device in a suicide vest,” said Army Maj. Brad Merritt, deputy commander of the 42nd CST. “When the device was disarmed, [simulated] radiation was detected and the CST was on site to detect what type of radiological agent was being detected.”
This scenario is all too familiar to those involved in this line of work. According to Merritt, CST’s are often called upon to help identify unknown agents that cannot accurately be detected by Hazardous Material (HAZMAT) Teams.
“The exercise is designed to replicate what they may encounter when they are called up for a mission,” said Derrick Johnson, Southeast Division Deputy of Civil Support Readiness Group-East. “A lot of our coordination efforts begin with civilian agencies in the public safety arena like fire, emergency response and police.”
The 22-member team is composed of members of the Air Force and the Army. Collectively, they have the ability to bring in mobile labs and detection equipment, collect samples and in most cases, identify the substance on site and advise a civilian incident commander as to how to properly dispose of the material in safe manner that will not endanger the surrounding area.
According to Johnson, all military branches receive the same standardized training across the board in order to ensure interoperability between states/regions and civilian agencies as well.
Johnson said the unit can deploy as a complete entity or be deployed in smaller elements; dependent upon the size and magnitude of the event. By all members training the same way, it ensures that smaller elements or individuals can successfully augment into other CSTs in other regions/states or jurisdictions.
Merritt said that the joint operations with Air Force personnel have helped pay big dividends when the unit works on Air Force bases or Air Force led operations.
Upon completing their evaluation, the unit was praised by Joint Forces Land Component Commander, U.S. Army – North, Army Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell for their commitment, proficiency and professionalism after their evaluation was complete.
“This fine unit is trained to perform its mission in support of the first responders in the state of North Carolina as well as the CBRN Response Enterprise mission,” said Caldwell.
When local resources are overwhelmed by an event and this specific capability is needed, the CST can be deployed in a matter hours to the incident site in order to provide critical chemical assistance. The CST then advises the incident commander in ways in which to achieve his/her objectives on a respective scene.
This day, unit members prepared a decontamination site and the unit’s survey team put on their chemical suits, conducted an initial reconnaissance of the building and collected samples of materials inside. Once the recon was complete, the survey team used the decontamination site to properly eradicate chemical residue off of their suits and then properly dispose of the contaminated items. Meanwhile, the survey team handed over the samples for analysis in the mobile labs.
“There’s a lot of CBRN training and chemistry involved,” said Army Sgt. Mario Delgado, a member of the unit’s survey team. “I have already been through the CSSC [Civil Support Skill Course] training and there’s still a lot of training left.”
Delgado, who recently moved to North Carolina from his home in Nebraska and entered the Army as a chemical specialist, said the mission and capabilities are what attracted him to become a member of the CST.
“I’m real excited to be here…I love the team… I love the mission and I look forward to all the training ahead,” said Delgado.
Caldwell also individually recognized Sgt. Delgado for properly maintaining the survey team’s equipment which enabled them to provide the exercise incident commander with the most accurate data and advice for the HAZMAT threat.
All members must take part in CSSC training. The 8-week course is designed to challenge and identify the most qualified military chemical experts to be assigned to Civil Support Teams. The course focuses on chemistry, hazardous material awareness and proper ways to contain HAZMAT. Later, those assigned to teams will take additional courses to help prepare them for personnel recovery various HAZMAT related courses.
Merritt said, collectively, the unit has taken part in thousands of hours of training in order to be properly prepared for their mission.
“The level of professionalism and expertise of the members is outstanding,” said Merritt. “New members adapt quickly to the team and become very strong and very knowledgeable very quickly.”
The 42nd CST serves FEMA Region IV, composed of states in the southeastern portion of United States like South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida, just to name a few.
The 42nd CST have served in three real world missions in Pink Hill, N.C., Goldsboro and more recently for the Democratic National Convention last fall.
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