PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Less than an hour and a half after arriving at Picatinny Arsenal, survey team members Staff Sgt. Nicky Lam and Sgt. Joe Bercovic entered a makeshift lab setup to make nerve gas.
Eleven members of the New Jersey National Guard's 21st Weapons of Mass Destruction-Civil Support Team were flown to the site using Black Hawk helicopters with the New Jersey Army National Guard's 1-150th Assault Helicopter Battalion as part of a training exercise Mar. 23, 2017.
This was the second time a strike team had been flown to a site using aviation assets.
It was also the first time the CST participated in a joint training exercise with the Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department firefighters at the New Jersey Homeland Defense Homeland Security Center at Picatinny Arsenal. The Center is a mixture of buildings, stacked 40-foot long Conex containers, and passenger train cars.
In any operation, the advance team has to be on site within 90 minutes of notification, while the main body will be on scene within three hours. With the use of the Black Hawks, the advance team was at Picatinny Arsenal 40 minutes after leaving their headquarters at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
All this underscores the CST's capability of being able to deploy at a moment's notice, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"We normally support ICs (incident commanders) in an advise, assist, and assess mode on various WMD incidents," said Lt. Col. George T. Christenson, 21st Weapons of Mass Destruction-Civil Support Team commander.
CSTs support civil authorities at natural or man-made disaster sites involving chemical, biological, radiological -- think dirty bomb, and nuclear materials, by identifying CBRN agents or substances. In addition, they assess current and projected consequences and provide advice on response measures and assist with requests for additional support.
Basically, they help emergency personnel know what happened, what will happen and how to deal with it.
The 21st also serves as a link between local officials and follow-on agencies such as the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
There are 57 CST teams in the United States, Washington, D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands. CSTs are composed of six sections - command, operations, communications, administration/logistics, medical, and survey. The survey sections enter contaminated areas to provide the CST the initial hazard assessment.
The CST concept is unique; comprised solely of Army and Air National Guard personnel representing 14 Army military occupational skills and 57 Air Force specialty codes. This means each team member is actually trained and cross-trained on a large number of tasks.
The 21st trains continuously throughout the year. This exercise was part of an ongoing assessment of the CST's interoperability capabilities with other state and federal agencies.
"It was a great opportunity to train with our federal partners, as well as keep our team up to speed on their training," said Christenson.