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Missouri Guardsmen make meth to learn how to identify meth labs
Missouri Guardsmen make meth to learn how to identify meth labs

1st Lt. Richard Sambolin, of the Missouri National Guard's 7th Civil Support Team, works with chemicals used to produce meth as part of a lab identification course at the Missouri Highway Patrol headquarters.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Oct. 1, 2009) — Four Missouri National Guardsmen in the 7th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team based at Fort Leonard Wood recently participated in clandestine lab training at the Missouri Highway Patrol headquarters.

The four men, 1st Lt. Nathan Looper of Lynchburg, 1st Lt. Matthew Marks and 1st Lt. Richard Sambolin of Waynesville, and Staff Sgt. Jason Allabaugh of Chadwick, took the course as part of their training, along with law enforcement officials from across the state.

The class was primarily geared toward the detection and cleanup of methamphetamine labs.

The training included classroom sessions and hands-on exercises. During the course, participants learned two methods for producing methamphetamine. Under close supervision, the participants used common household chemicals to make batches of meth in the highway patrol’s crime lab.

“The purpose of the course is to be able to identify products used in a meth lab so that we can differentiate between a clandestine lab and a clandestine chemical or biological lab,” Looper said. “Now we can look at photos of labs taken by our reconnaissance team and identify whether it is a terroristic lab or a meth lab.”

Being able to tell the difference is important for the team because their mission is to focus on detecting, identifying, and neutralizing weapons of mass destruction. Meth labs, however, are generally left to law enforcement.

“Quick identification is a part of the 7th Civil Support Team’s mission statement. We need to be those keen eyes,” said Sambolin, the unit’s reconnaissance team officer in charge. “Having this training allows us to discern whether we are dealing with weapons of mass destruction or with a different lab set up.”

It also makes for quicker resolutions to any lab discoveries.

“That saves the state money, time and resources,” said Looper, the team’s medical operations officer.

That doesn’t always mean that one type of lab isn’t related to the other.

“The methamphetamine could be a money lab to buy the products that they need for the chemical or biological lab,” Looper said. “One lab leads to another. They can use the same labware for both products, but will use different ingredients.”

Allabaugh, the team’s medical noncommissioned officer, said he obtained a better understanding of what finished products within the labs will look like, which will help him during incidents to determine what substances need to be analyzed.

“We can look at photos to determine what we want to take samples of,” Allabaugh said. “We don’t want to randomly take samples. It also will tell us what step in the process they are at.”

The thing that surprised Allabaugh about the class most was what the drug itself is made of.

“People actually ingest those harmful chemicals,” he said.

Marks, the team’s nuclear medicine science officer, agreed.

“It’s been informative seeing the true hazards behind a meth lab and what law enforcement goes through when they go into a lab,” Marks said. “It’s interesting to see what lengths people will go through to get their high.”

The quick and dirty methods of making meth were shocking, Marks said.

“I’ve learned how dangerous it is if you don’t have any training to make it,” he said.

Other than lab setups and the production of meth, the course also goes over detection equipment and personal protective equipment, which is carefully reviewed for team members. Sambolin said it is still beneficial because the course used different brands than what the team does.

“It gives us the ability to learn about one more piece of equipment and one more type of personal protective equipment,” he said.

The Guardsmen also used the class time to network with law enforcement officials.

“It gives us a great opportunity for us to continue our relationship with the Missouri Highway Patrol and Missouri Department of Natural Resources,” Sambolin said. “We always welcome the opportunity to train together, so in the event of an incident, we have face recognition.

“I feel lucky that we are here as ambassadors for the Missouri National Guard,” Sambolin said.

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