7th Civil Support Team conducts first waterborne exercise in Missouri
By: Matthew J. Wilson/Missouri National Guard Public Affairs
Posted: Friday, September 25, 2009 11:48 pm
Missouri National Guard Sgt. Brian Harvey, of the 7th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team, boards a Missouri Water Patrol boat during an exercise at Lake of the Ozarks.
OSAGE BEACH, Mo. (Sept. 8, 2009) — With the possibility of a terrorist attack on one of the state’s waterways, the 7th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team spent two days earlier this month training on the Lake of the Ozarks to respond to waterborne threats.
The Missouri Army and Air National Guard unit from Fort Leonard Wood teamed with the Missouri Water Patrol and its SWAT team for a joint exercise put on by the Center for National Response. It was the team’s first exercise that involved a body of water.
“There were lots of challenges,” said Maj. Jeffrey Ford, the team’s deputy commander. “Up until this point, all of our tactics, techniques and procedures were designed for a ground entry.”
The reconnaissance team members normally load up an all-terrain vehicle with their equipment, drive close to the target area, and walk back and forth to the vehicle as necessary for equipment.
In this scenario, the recon members had to carry all their equipment on board one of the water patrol’s boats, which dropped them off on or near the target.
“In this case, we had to put everything into smaller containers, load it onto a boat and then move on to the target,” said Ford. “When you get to the target, you don’t have everything that you’re used to having. You have to adapt to that.”
On the first day, the unit was called to respond to suspicious activity on a house boat. On board, the team discovered a chemical compound intended to be a weapon of mass destruction. The follow-up part of the exercise two days later involved the investigation of a shack on the lake where it turned out the chemical compound from the house boat was created.
Ford said it also was a good experience working with the Missouri Water Patrol and its SWAT team, led by Lt. David Wall.
“They were excellent — they provided great support,” Ford said. “They did everything and more that we asked of them. I had no idea that they had SWAT capability, let alone with appropriate personal protection equipment for a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear environment.”
As the only section from the unit that had to be on the water, the reconnaissance team spent about a month preparing for the exercise and getting its non-swimmers comfortable in the water.
Now a novice swimmer, Sgt. Chester Romine said he was at ease during the exercise because of his training.
“It was different, but I did not have any issues with it,” he said. “I’d never really been on a boat like that.”
Preparing for all types of threats in different environments is important, Romine said.
“You have to be ready for everything because terrorism can happen anywhere, anytime,” he said.
Romine said the biggest difference for him was relying on someone else to get him to the target.
“It was harder to do the mission waiting on another element to do the transportation part of it,” he said.
The communications section of the unit was challenged by its ability to keep radios functioning around the geography and terrain of the lake. Master Sgt. William Heikkila, the 7th’s communications team chief, said the best fix on the fly was tapping into the water patrol’s channel and leaving a reconnaissance member on the boat to relay radio traffic.
“In the future, what I’m looking at, is tying multiple pieces of radio interoperability equipment together and tying in high frequency to provide coverage over the entire lake,” said Heikkila. “That way they can use their hand-held radios going into a radio interoperability piece of equipment and then it will transmit and receive via the high frequency.”
Heikkila can then become the liaison for the radio traffic.
For the unit’s decontamination section, the obstacle was finding a water source in a rural environment.
“We have never done a training exercise where we didn’t have a fire hydrant or a spigot readily available,” said Staff Sgt. Yvonne Lugo, decontamination team member. “We had to pump the water out of the lake for the very first time. That was a great training opportunity.”
Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Uptegrove, the 7th’s decontamination noncommissioned officer in charge, said after the water was used for decontamination, it was pumped into a storage bladder so it did not contaminate the lake.
For the first day of the exercise, 1st Lt. Nathan Looper, the team’s medical operations officer, took on the additional role of the unit operations officer, who acts as the functional hub among the civilian authorities and unit. It was a good experience for Looper, who said it helped him grow as a member of the team.
“It’s always good to have depth within the team — everybody should know more than just their own job so that you can fill in, in the absence of someone else,” he said. “It was an eye-opening experience. There are a lot more things on the operations side of the house that I wasn’t aware of that have to be done.”
Looper said the biggest challenge was the time management it required to accomplish the goals of both positions. He said he leaned on the experience of the unit’s noncommissioned officers to stay on task.
The exercise was the first with the team for Master Sgt. David Adams, who is training to take over the communications team chief position in March 2010.
“From the outside looking in for the first time, it was organized chaos,” Adams said. “Once you jump in and get your feet wet, you really see how all the different sections working together will get the mission completed. I learned a lot.”
The success of the exercise has the 7th looking to work with more agencies for a training exercise on the Missouri or Mississippi rivers, perhaps with the Coast Guard or again with the state water patrol, on a larger vessel, like a container ship barge.
“It was a good thing that we started small and maybe starting small ended up being more difficult than what working with a large ship will be,” Ford said. “Dealing with small crafts and great distances provided by the lake, versus the river, were definitely challenges. I think we definitely learned a lot and we’re ready for the next step.”