Guard’s 7th Civil Support Team learns tactics for radiological threat response
By: Matthew J. Wilson/Missouri National Guard Public Affairs
Staff Sgt. Chester Romine, Sgt. Joe Ramsey, Sgt. 1st Class Juan Gallego and Staff Sgt. Yvonne Lugo from the 7th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team search for radiological sources in training at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (March 5, 2010) — As one of four new members of the 7th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team, Sgt. 1st Class Joe Mell had no experience dealing with radiological threats.
Mell and the rest of the Missouri National Guard unit from Fort Leonard Wood recently spent a week in the high desert learning techniques on identifying and locating radiation sources, and the best way to deal with the hazard once it’s found.
“I have a 100 percent difference in the way I look at radiation versus what I did before I ever attended the course,” said Mell, the unit’s decontamination noncommissioned officer in charge. “I learned about the different pieces of equipment there are to detect radiation and how to use them.”
The schoolhouse for the training was the Defense Nuclear Weapons School at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency on Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M.
The agency is the U.S. Department of Defense’s official Combat Support Agency for countering weapons of mass destruction. The instructors are subject matter experts on weapons of mass destruction, who address the entire spectrum of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high yield explosive threats.
The entire team took the online training — Applied Radiological Response Techniques 1 — before making the trip. The reconnaissance, operations and decontamination sections of the team took Applied Radiological Response Techniques 2 on site, while the command, medical and communications sections completed a series of classroom tasks specific to them.
The unit made arrangements for five civilian fire department chiefs from Missouri, one each from Columbia, Western Taney County, Springfield, Lee’s Summit and Cape Girardeau, to join the training. The civil support teams often train directly with civilian first responders so they are better prepared to work together in the event of a crisis.
The course culminated on the fifth and final day with an exercise that involved the entire team.
Applied Radiological Response Techniques 2 covered how to effectively use radiation detection equipment in a first-responder environment, conduct effective environmental surveys for contamination, determine the extent of the hazards, identify the hazard, best respond and protect the public, and expanded on the general overview of radiological response, said Master Sgt. Timothy Uptegrove, the unit’s first sergeant.
“This class was designed to give the team the opportunity to advance higher than the typical doctrinal levels we’re taught as chemical soldiers,” he said. “This class is intended to develop them into that subject matter expert or technician-level responder during radiological incidents.”
In out-of-class exercises, students were exposed to low-level radiation sources to learn how to read their detection equipment in an actual situation and how to determine the locations of those sources when they aren’t in plain sight.
“The most beneficial part of this course, like all radiological training, was the fact that we got to use actual sources and the equipment we would respond with — you don’t gain the same level of benefit from the training if it’s simulated,” said Uptegrove, who also said the training was very realistic and that they used the same radiological isotopes they are potentially going to come in contact with in a real-world event.
“Team members got to use their instrumentation and see how it would really react to radiological sources,” he said.
Mell, who lives in Campbell, said the field training appealed to him most, specifically rummaging through cluttered areas to locate radiation sources.
“It showed you how one large source can cover up a bunch of small sources,” he said. “It also showed you how precise the measurements of your instruments were.”
Another important subject the course covered, according to Uptegrove, was what the legal levels of contamination the civilian public can be exposed to without being harmful.
“We’re taught one way in a battlefield environment, but the rules completely change whenever you are talking about civilians,” said Uptegrove, who lives in Lebanon. “You have an acceptable level of risk as a Guardsman that the general public does not. Our job on the civil support team is to protect the public.”
The course also included information on how the body reacts to radiation exposure.
“You learn how much tolerance the body has,” Mell said.
For command, medical communications and the fire chiefs, the class included instruction on the history of terrorism, two table-top exercises and a public affairs risk communication presentation.
Lt. Col Raymond White, team commander, said the history on terrorism was his favorite part of the course.
“It was a great opportunity to learn the history of how terrorism has changed over the years,” he said.
White, however, said the portion of the course he found most valuable was in public affairs.
“What I needed most was the interaction with the media,” said White, of Fort Leonard Wood. “We learned how to build a relationship with the media and how to utilize the media to disseminate information to the public in a real-world event.”
Tech. Sgt. Anthony Gordes, information systems noncommissioned officer, also enjoyed learning more about the history of terrorism.
“It was a little bit more specific about the nature of terrorism and why terrorists do it,” he said. “There were a lot of assumptions made by people and they found out they were wrong. Some assume it is strictly because of religion, which is not the case. It’s a combination of ideology, personal circumstances and religion.”
In the table top exercises, each member of the class took on a role as a particular type of first responder and then responded accordingly. Both exercises consisted of a bomb detonation that spread radioactive material, first at a convenience store and then at a sports stadium packed with 17,000 people, including the governor of New Mexico.
“We all had positions from fireman to police chief and just basically ran through the scenario,” said Gordes, of Salem. “We talked about what we would do, what resources would we need and how we would respond.”