Army North's CSTA puts Nevada CBRN team through paces
January 29, 2013
LAS VEGAS - As part of a U.S. Army North technical proficiency exercise, a small team of specialized Nevada National Guard Soldiers and Airmen assisted local Las Vegas police and firefighters in investigating a possible chemical or biological incident Jan. 24 at the Las Vegas Reserve Center.
The 22-man team of Army and Air National Guard service members, who serve with the 92nd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team had just returned to Las Vegas from service during the 2013 Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C., when they got the call for assistance from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department's all-hazards multi-agency operations and response unit, known as ARMOR.
During the early moments of the exercise, Clark County firefighters and Las Vegas police had "rescued" a number of people from an auditorium when a hidden device kicked on. First responders suspected that it may be emitting chemical or biological agents, so the Guard team was called in to take samples and identify the potential threat.
"Through the technical proficiency exercise, the civil support teams are required, every 18 months, to validate that they are able to accomplish their mission," said Conrad Striegl, a division chief with Civil Support Training Activity, U.S. Army North. "This is the culmination of months of training for the team and coordination with Las Vegas, Clark County and Nevada law enforcement and emergency agencies."
Nevada's WMD-CST is one of 57 such specialized Guard teams around the nation that provide support of civil authorities in the event of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents by deploying rapidly to assist local first responders in determining the precise nature of an incident, provide expert medical and technical advice, and help pave the way for the identification and arrival of follow-on military support.
For the exercise, Sgt. Anthony Sarmiento and Staff Sgt. Michael Noyes, both of whom are survey team members, geared up in fully-encapsulating chemical entry suits to enter the auditorium and to take samples from what was believed to be a possible nerve agent being emitted from a device under the projector table.
"I love this job," said Sarmiento, a native from Las Vegas and former military policeman. "It gives me the opportunity to serve full time in the Guard, working for my community."
Noyes, who moved to Las Vegas from Omaha, Neb., to take the job, agreed.
"I like this job because it's what I'm trained to do, and this is the best team in the nation," said Noyes. "Civil support teams offer chemical Soldiers the opportunity to work in high-tech environments and to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in the field."
Army North's support and training is crucial in ensuring that his team is prepared, said Lt. Col. David Sellen, commander, 92nd CST.
"For us, this is really our report card -- validating our mission essential task list," said Sellen. "We walk away knowing we can accomplish the mission when called upon. We talk about citizen-Soldiers -- this is the epitome of it, working with local first responders to keep our community safe. This is our neighborhood; this is our state."
The proficiency exercise was an introduction to the unit for Spc. Jessica Menendez, who recently arrived at the 92nd CST from a job as a supply specialist in the 422nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion.
"I saw a posting, and since I'm trained as a chemical specialist, I'm interested in working in my field," said Menendez. "In the National Guard, a normal chemical job is making sure everyone has a protective mask and that it seals properly. This is more hands-on, interesting. And I think it's more rewarding. Not only am I active (duty) now, I'm serving in my hometown."
The civil support teams can detect nerve, blood, choking, blister and other chemical agents, including volatile organic chemicals; alpha, beta and gamma radiation and individual isotopes; analyze viruses, toxins, bacteria and other biological agents; and assess the atmosphere for oxygen, carbon monoxide, toxic industrial chemicals and the lower/upper explosive limits.
To prepare for the training proficiency exercise, trainers from Army North's CSTA conducted collective lanes training with the unit Nov. 26-30 at Henderson and Pahrump, both in Nevada. The lanes training involved a complex set of tasks from evacuation and decontamination to sampling, identifying threats, assessing consequences and advising responders.
"Our goal is to train hard and make it challenging in order to best protect the American people and our way of life," said Bill Havlic, deputy director, CSTA.
The Soldiers and Airmen of the 92nd CST stay busy.
"We are on missions about two weeks of every month," said Sellen. Besides responding to incidents, including hoaxes, the team supports many high-profile events with the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, the Professional Bull Riders, the National Finals Rodeo, Miss America, the International Basketball Federation and many others.
For the Army North trainers conducting the exercise, one priority - safety - stood out as they evaluated the civil support team as it conducted its mission to sample and identify the hazard, preserve the crime scene, and advise responders on medical treatment and mitigation.
"Safety is our number one objective: keeping citizens safe and keeping emergency responders safe," said Todd Chance, exercise director, CSTA.
The unit will receive a detailed report from Army North, where it will be evaluated in every facet of the mission, from response time and deployment to an analysis of unit tactics, techniques and procedures, equipment, capabilities, communications, safety, and many other facets, and the team will be rated "trained," "needs practice" or "untrained." Copies of the evaluation will be sent to Nevada state agencies and state Army and Air National Guard leaders.