National Guard’s 7th Civil Support Team at FLW tests readiness
By: Matthew J. Wilson, Missouri National Guard
Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 2:33 pm
Spc. Bobby Everett and Sgt 1st Class Juan Gallego of St. Robert, and Sgt. Herbert Wolf of Springfield, all from the 7th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team at Fort Leonard Wood, discover the source of a simulated biological agent.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Feb. 20, 2009) — The 7th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team completed a two-part exercise Feb. 18-19 that spanned the southern part of state and included stops in Jackson and Springfield.
The 22-person unit, made up of Missouri Army and Air National Guardsmen, responded to a pair of scenarios that included a simulated biological threat from bacteria which can cause a potentially serious illness known as Tularemia.
“We wanted to push the principle that we’re always ready,” said Maj. Jeffrey Ford, deputy commander of the unit and the creator of the scenarios. “A lot of times we finish an exercise and we mentally check out and say, ‘We’re good,’ and drive home. I wanted to reinforce to the guys that we never know what’s around the corner.”
The first exercise was the production lab for the bacteria and the second was the “product’s” dissemination point.
“The exercise was designed to keep their minds focused strategically,” Ford said. “Instead of looking at just this one exercise, ‘What does this mean to me?’ they need to consider what’s going on around them because the one exercise on Thursday tied in with the one on Wednesday.”
Ford was pleased with how the team performed and felt like it improved upon some trouble spots from recent previous drills.
“Overall, it was a good exercise,” he said. “We are constantly redefining tactics, techniques and procedures as we go.”
In the first exercise, the unit worked with more than 35 members of the Southeast Missouri Hazardous Material Team, which is made up of members of the Jackson Fire and Police Departments, the Cape Girardeau Fire Department and the Sikeston Department of Public Safety, in response to a simulated lab facility inside the Jackson City Pool’s men’s restroom.
Ford said it was a great opportunity for joint training.
“As a general rule, our philosophy is that we don’t want to show up at a real incident site and that’s the first time that we exchange business cards,” Ford said. “We want to get to know our customers, because that’s really who they are — the first responders, the fire chiefs, the police chiefs and the local emergency planning committee officials. We want to get to know them before we actually have to respond to the real event. We want to know their capabilities and we want them to know our capabilities, so that they know what we can do and what to ask of us when we show up on site.”
Jackson Fire Chief Jason Mouser was the Southeast Missouri Hazardous Material Team civilian incident commander for the exercise.
“In all the trainings I’ve been to, I’ve been to ones with some of the CST guys there and they offered to train with us,” Mouser said. “I thought it was important to know their capabilities in conjunction with ours. I’m overwhelmed with what they are able to even do, to know that there is a resource like that available in the state in case we would ever have to call them here on the east side of the state.”
The Southeast Missouri Hazardous Material Team started about seven years ago through the Department of Homeland Security as a federally funded team to help respond and assist anywhere in the state.
“We started small and we’ve come a long way over six or seven years,” Mouser said. “To know that we have a resource like the 7th CST is invaluable.”
The training scenario involved a deputy getting exposed to an unknown contaminant while serving a warrant. Inside the residence, the deputy found an unconscious man — a first-aid dummy, in reality — along with a mock lab that consisted of a book on microbiology and blood agents.
After the hazmat team was called in, it made initial entry and mapped out the facility.
“We had a pretty good sketch for the 7th CST coming in on what they were getting into,” Mouser said.
The Guard team then arrived and quickly sent in a two-person team to recover samples.
“Our first entry was a battle drill that we don’t usually practice — it was a hasty entry the way that we did it,” Ford said. “But it seemed like we fell into pretty well and we got it done. We made entry really fast and didn’t sacrifice safety in the process.”
Some of the samples were passed off just outside the pool compound to members of the hazmat team, who were on standby so they could quickly return those samples to the staging area to be analyzed.
When all the teams returned, they went through a joint decontamination line that had both civilian and Guard components.
Ford and Mouser both said the exercise was a great display of what can happen when the Guard and civilian authorities work together side by side.
“I think that’s the way it should be,” Mouser said. “I know they’ve got a far more extensive background than what we do, but what better way to learn than from professionals like these guys.”
The 7th CST sent in a final three-person entry team to collect a few more samples and tie off and loose ends, while members of the hazmat team observed.
It was the first time the two teams handled an exercise together.
“It doesn’t seem like that we’ve done any exercises down there in that part of the state, so it’s kind of been a ground-breaking experience for us,” Ford said. “We’ve done some tabletop exercises down in that area of the state before, but never, at least not in recent memory, done a full-blown exercise out there with them. So this was kind of a new deal for us.”
Both groups hope the cooperation continues.
“I would very much like that,” Mouser said. “I’ve already talked to Maj. Ford about doing this again in the near future, maybe in the fall. If we could get together at least once a year, I think it would be a tremendous opportunity.”
After the team stayed the night in nearby Sikeston, it received another call for a potential threat in Springfield. There the scenario consisted of individuals being hospitalized after attending an organizational meeting at Lake County Soccer Complex.
Although in a real situation the team would always work with civilian authorities, in this circumstance, it trained solo. The main objective was to discover the source of what made the individuals ill and contain it. But in such a large area as a public building, it was much like a treasure hunt for a needle in a hay stack.
A pair of two-person teams made initial entry. While there, they used several tools at their disposal to check for contaminants in the air and also took random samples from leftover food in the garbage, air vents and door knobs.
With what they found, the team hypothesized that they were looking for something similar to the previous day’s exercise.
“We were looking for a dispersal device, basically an air freshener,” said Sgt. 1st Class Juan Gallego. “The day before at the swimming pool, they had air fresheners in there, too. Once we had the signs and symptoms that we thought was Tularemia, we asked ‘How did they disseminate it over at the swimming pool?”
Gallego led a three-person entry team into the building that was able to discover the source — two large air fresheners — properly contain them and remove them from the building.
“We were just doing our sweeps,” Gallego said. “It was in the dark — that’s why they didn’t see it the first time. We had the big flashlight and saw it up on the wall and noticed that it was twice the size of the air fresheners we’d seen earlier in the other parts of the building.”