Guard’s 7th Civil Support Team at FLW preps for its external evaluation
By: Matthew J. Wilson/Missouri National Guard
Sgt. 1st Class Juan Gallego of the 7th Civil Support Team at Fort Leonard Wood removes an improvised chemical dispersal device from a box, while his teammate, Sgt. Chester Romine, looks on during a pre-external evaluation exercise.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (April 15, 2009) — The Missouri National Guard’s 7th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team earned high marks from U.S. Army North assessors last week during a pre-external evaluation with exercises in Columbia and Sedalia.
The team is based at Fort Leonard Wood and is available to respond to major incidents statewide by assessing suspected or known terrorist threats, advising civilian authorities of appropriate responses, and assisting local emergency responders in incidents involving weapons of mass destruction.
“They were very impressed with how the team came together to form a cohesive operation cell to work on the problem,” said Air Guard Lt. Col. Raymond White, the 7th Civil Support Team’s commander. “They exceeded my expectations. They proved they could function as a highly-trained, efficient unit in all conditions. The weather was pretty nasty both days we were out there and they still were able to come together to work out the problems and solutions.”
The exercises were meant to prepare the Fort Leonard Wood unit for its external evaluation, also conducted by U.S. Army North, which is scheduled for April 20 to 24.
Made up of both Army and Air National Guard members, the 22-person active Guard unit must be capable of sending out an advanced party team within 90 minutes at all times to investigate potential threats that can range from mass sickness to mysterious white powders to unidentified contaminations.
The team is externally tested every 18 months and is validated if it meets National Guard Bureau standards.
“They verify the fact that the team is fully equipped, fully trained and fully functioning to accomplish its mission,” White said.
Pre-external evaluations occur once every eight months.
The pre-external evaluation exercises are influenced by the items on which the unit commander wants the team tested.
“I sent down a list of training objectives and then U.S. Army North builds the exercise around those objectives,” White said.
For the external evaluations, U.S. Army North concocts its own objectives and scenarios.
U.S. Army North’s mission is to conduct homeland defense and civil support operations and theater security cooperation activities as the Army Service Component Command to U.S. Northern Command in order to protect the American people and their way of life. On order, U.S. Army North, located at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, commands and controls deployed forces as a Joint Task Force or Joint Force Land Component Command. The headquarters is responsible for planning and coordinating the military land forces that would be called upon to aid the people and communities affected by a catastrophic disaster such as this.
For this pre-external evaluation, White wanted his team to be faced with multiple problems and U.S. Army North delivered with a chemical and radiological threat at the Boone County Fairgrounds north of Columbia and a chemical and biological threat at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia.
“U.S. Army North provided feedback on recommended areas of improvement,” White said. “We are spending this week fine-tuning some unit standard operating procedures to better prepare for a real-world event and the official external evaluation next week.”
The unit’s reconnaissance team includes its least seasoned members, but its team leader, 2nd Lt. Richard Sambolin, was pleased with how his group responded.
“They are coming a long way in a real short time. I think the recon section is well on its way to meeting the standards to pass external evaluation,” Sambolin said. “We saw some opportunities that we need to work on and we have this week to do so. We saw some areas we are excelling in and we are going to maintain those. As far as external evaluation is concerned, I feel that we will perform satisfactorily and we will pass.
“The evaluator from the U.S. Army North team said we were well within the guidelines to meet the standards. We all feel comfortable that we’ll be able to pass the external evaluation, no problem.”
To stabilize the team, Sambolin said a junior team member is usually paired with a senior member.
“The juniors bring exuberance and thirst for knowledge and the seniors bring their experience,” he said. “They both feed off of each other and it makes for a great match.”
“Every opportunity that we get, based on all the exercises that we have done, the junior members get more and more insight on how to get the job done. I feel that sometime in the next year, they’ll be operating by themselves.”
The pre-external evaluation also provided a solid learning opportunity for the unit’s medical staff as it had a chance to work with genuine chemical and biological samples.
“We ran real samples and that was nice,” said 1st Lt. Matthew Marks, the unit’s nuclear medicine science officer. “U.S. Army North went straight off the material safety data sheets showing us signs and symptoms and relating them back to actual chemicals for analysis. A lot of our regular exercises are cut short because they are operations-based and don’t allow us time to run true samples.”
The evaluators tossed a few curves with the samples, which Marks said taught a valuable lesson.
“Don’t get tunnel vision and focus on the whole gamut of what it could be, but at the same time, don’t start chasing white rabbits,” he said.