EPA preps 7th Civil Support Team recon team for real-world testing
By: Matthew J. Wilson/Missouri National Guard
Posted: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 4:37 am
Sgt. Herbert Wolf, center, and Spc. Bobby Everett, right, construct a chemistry lab while Sgt. Brian Harvey observes during an EPA small-scale chemical and biological weapons labs course held for the 7th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (March 31, 2009) — The Environmental Protection Agency recently conducted a small-scale chemical and biological weapons labs course at the home of the 7th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team.
The course was geared toward the unit’s reconnaissance team members in an effort to ready them for a more in-depth CIA-run course to be taken later in Reston, Va.
“This was good preparation,” said 2nd Lt. Richard Sambolin, the unit’s recon team leader. “When we go there, we’ll have some basic skills down — be refreshed — and we can take it to that next level. We’re not picking up the small details — hopefully we were able to do that this week. Now when we get over there, we’ll be able to start really keying in and further enhance our learning.”
The EPA is a valuable source of instruction for the unit, Sambolin said.
“When the people from the EPA come, they bring with them a breadth of knowledge and real-world experiences that they can impart to the team members,” Sambolin said. “Although we do a myriad of training, it’s just that — training. When they can bring real-world events to that training, it kind of emphasizes the importance of what we do.”
Sambolin said the team learned from the EPA what has caused false positives for contaminants on different equipment in different situations and also picked up proven workarounds to those problems.
“The equipment that we use is tested at a laboratory under perfect circumstances with the chemical that they intended to identify in its purest form,” Sambolin said. “Most of the time we are working with chemicals that are diluted or not of grade-A quality and some chemicals that present false positives. Now being able to interpret that data that the equipment is giving you and saying to yourself, ‘Yes, this is an actual reading. No, this is a false positive because of...’ That’s the piece that I think we get from outfits like the EPA. Those are the added benefits that come from dealing with people who do this job 24-7 for the EPA.
“What I hope is that we can glean some of that knowledge,” Sambolin said.
Sgts. Brian Harvey and Chester Romine, two of the team’s newest members, said they got a lot out of the class.
“I got a better understanding of laboratory processes and learned more of the terminology for all the equipment used in a lab process,” Harvey said.
“I learned a lot more about lab set-ups, names of certain equipment, and what type of threat each set-up is geared toward, like whether its bio or chemical,” Romine said.
That knowledge will help them better describe lab set-ups in a uniform fashion upon entry into a threat zone and relay it back to the rest of the team.
“It helps make things quicker as far as calling information back and helps us get on the same page,” Harvey said. “If I say ‘a three-neck flask,’ it paints a better picture, based on what I’m seeing, to them back in the rear.”
Because they can now more quickly and accurately describe the scene, it should speed up the process of determining how much of a threat the lab process poses.
“Knowing what the set-up is normally intended for will help us determine what it is before we call it back into our recon chief,” Romine said. “That will put them on the right track earlier.”
The course is divided into three steps, said Doug Ferguson, one of the EPA instructors.
“Number one, you kind of tell them what’s out there and some of the different chemistry, some of the biology and the processes,” Ferguson said. “Then, the next step, you set it up and see of they can figure out what you did. Then the third stage, they actually do it themselves. They take the tools and resources that we have been using to teach them and they design and build their own labs. That way, you know that they know what they are doing. If you can build it, then you can look at what somebody else built and figure out what they are doing.”
Ferguson said he hopes the team found the instruction beneficial for its upcoming instruction.
“When you pay somebody to fly off to some other distant area and you are paying them tens of thousands of dollars to teach you, you want to know the simple stuff,” Ferguson said. “This instruction was supposed to be the basic stuff for them, so that when they go to the other schools, they are a little better prepared.”
Ferguson thought the team grasped the material well.
“They had a couple of new guys that I think were probably getting pushed a little hard, but I try to aim for the middle,” Ferguson said. “So the guys that have been here a while probably found it as a review and some of the newer guys probably found it pretty challenging.”
Sambolin said the information was presented well.
“Doug was a chemistry teacher in high school for a lot of years, so his methodology of teaching really reaches us because he can speak at a level that even the most basic student would understand,” Sambolin said. “On the team, you’ve got different levels of experience. So if he can make the youngest troop on the team understand the information, then we really get a lot out of him coming.”