Guard civil support team responds to suspicious package
December 19, 2008
AUSTIN, Texas (Dec. 17, 2008) - Camp Mabry, Texas, was added to the growing list of National Guard installations Wednesday to receive a suspicious package through the mail.
Under the oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Austin Police Department Bomb Squad, the 6th Civil Support Team (CST) responded to a request to remove and analyze two suspicious packages received here by the Armed Forces Reserve Center.
Since Dec. 12, more than 50 packages with anti-war compact discs have been discovered at National Guard facilities around the country, said Mark Allen, a spokesman for the National Guard.
The packages appear to be someone exercising their First Amendment right to freedom of expression, which is not a crime, said Rich Kolko, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
When the packages were discovered at Camp Mabry, they were removed by experts from the CST.
The 6th CST is one of 55 National Guard such teams stationed across the nation and is a rapidly deployable, full-time Army and Air National Guard unit available to respond to incidents involving possible weapons of mass destruction, as well as other disasters and catastrophes.
The 22-person team represents both federal and state governments by providing support to local emergency responders and has trained in many different cities throughout the country.
CST team members usually deploy within one-hour's notice, but since the "threat" was basically in their backyard, they responded within minutes.
They operate as a state asset under the command and control of the state governor, but provide direct support to civilian incident commanders.
In this case, an FBI representative was the incident commander.
Equipped with monitoring equipment, CST members advanced on the packages, reported initial field findings and readings and were cleared to transport the material to the mobile lab.
Sgt. Eric Lebeaux, Spc. Robert Delano and Sgt. Reggie Book were the three CST members who donned their level-C suits under the direction of Capt. Mike Torres, the team leader. Lt. Col. Samuel West monitored their vital signs.
Torres, who briefed his team on weather conditions and hydration, said: "The packages do not appear to contain an explosives hazard, but any suspicious packages received through the mail should be considered dangerous and definitely should be investigated."
Torres reported to his team that the FBI wanted handlers to maintain the integrity of the evidence on the packages and an APD officer would take care of evidentiary sealing and over packs.
The Mobile Analytical Lab System was used to analyze the packages. The MALS is based on a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer system able to identify more than 125,000 dangerous substances. Technicians can do a preliminary analysis of material inside the box before introducing the suspected packages to the main laboratory, avoiding contamination of people and equipment.
As it turned out, there was no threat of contamination and the FBI, Austin police and CST wrapped up the mission, determining the packages to be nonhazardous.
At no time were Camp Mabry personnel or neighboring homes in danger, officials said. They said evacuation orders would have been issued if there was a threat of contamination.
Three other Texas National Guard installations received similar packages. One was delivered to the 149th Fighter Wing at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, another found at the 136th Airlift Wing in Fort Worth and a third at the 147th Reconnaissance Wing in Houston. These packages were analyzed in similar fashion and determined to be nonhazardous, officials said.
"This was an excellent exercise with an element of urgency because we did not know for sure that this would be harmless," said Col. Jet Hays, commander of the 6th CST. "We thank our FBI and Austin police partners for their quick response and excellent coordination with our team."
Hays said his CST will continue to be vigilant "about anything suspicious found or delivered to one of its facilities regardless of the number of times we have to roll out."