By Army Staff Sgt. Darron Salzer, First Army Division East Public AffairsAugust 21, 2017
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- National Guard weapons of mass destruction civil support teams are there to respond to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents throughout the homeland, and advise and assist local and civil authorities on response measures.
A team's success can often be measured by how quickly they can analyze and identify the threat and provide their assessment for containing the situation to the incident commander.
Innovations to shorten that time, from arrival on site to assessment, are being led by the National Guard Bureau's Malcolm Reese, the joint program manager for the Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction Division of the NGB's Operations Directorate.
When Reese saw an innovative opportunity to re-purpose the Army's Talon IV unmanned robots, he and his team worked alongside other Department of Defense agencies to generate the first robotic CBRN capability within the DOD.
"What we basically did was take a system that was already designed for a particular mission requirement and ... re-mission [it] for the civil support teams," Reese said, whose job is to help validate new technologies that could strengthen CBRN capabilities within the Guard.
The Talon IV was used in Iraq and Afghanistan by explosive ordnance disposal teams. As operations there wound down, the equipment was no longer needed.
To ready the robots for the CBRN mission, chemical, biological, radiological and toxic industrial material sensors were installed, as well as an upgraded communication system, infrared day/night cameras and an autonomous mapping system.
These upgrades allow for remote entry to unknown CBRN environments, Reese said.
"[It] eliminates the need to put Soldiers and Airmen in harm's way without compromising the mission," he said.
WMD-CST personnel, as hazardous materials technicians, must don extensive protective equipment before entering a contaminated area.
Reese said that process can take up valuable time, and the protective equipment can be restrictive when conducting reconnaissance to verify the type and extent of contamination.
Eliminating the need to "suit up" is a force multiplier for Tech. Sgt. Brett Whitfill, a survey team chief from the 73rd CST, Kansas National Guard.
"With this [equipment] we could pull it out of our truck or trailer, set it up and send it downrange to investigate," Whitfill said.
"We [can] get real-time data and real-time feedback," he added.
In addition to data gathering, Whitfill said the robots will also allow teams to work longer hours.
"It doesn't get tired; it doesn't want to sleep," he said. "We get multiple hours of use with it and that is valuable."
Whitfill and other CST members from Hawaii, New York and Ohio recently attended a one-week training course at the Robot Logistics Support Center, familiarizing themselves with the new equipment.
Currently, 26 of the Guard's 57 teams have attended that training.
"It's been a really positive experience," said Tim Nichols, lead instructor and repair technician at the RLSC. "The teams [responded to] the equipment really well and ... interfaced with the controls, which are very similar to a lot of modern video games."
In addition to working with the NGB, the RLSC also provides robot sustainment and training support to the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and other joint services.
Working with the NGB, Nichols said the opportunity to train and equip the CST mission was another testament to how his organization has helped give a second life to equipment that could otherwise be collecting dust.
"[It] is a win for everyone," he said.
"It allows the utilization of equipment that is already in the government's inventory and draws on more than a decade of experience that the RLSC has to offer," he continued.
More importantly for Nichols, the robots save lives.
"The CST mission is unique and unpredictable," he said. "The robots eliminate CST members from having to perform dangerous and mundane tasks."
Innovative ideas that reduce risk to Guard members, improve capabilities and save taxpayer dollars are of the utmost interest to senior Guard leadership, according to Reese.
"The chief, Gen. Joseph Lengyel, has made innovation within the Guard one of his top priorities," Reese said, adding that innovation is simply part of the organization's DNA.
"The vast majority of Guardsmen have civilian and military skills," he said. "As a result, they approach military problems with a different perspective."
To capitalize on that spirit, Lengyel launched the National Guard Innovation and Agility Campaign to help drive and facilitate ideas from across the force and build upon the inherent ability of Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen to be agile problem solvers.
"With innovation as a top priority, we continue to look for ways to validate current and emerging technologies to provide more dynamic capabilities to our men and women," Reese said.