WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Soldiers and Airmen of the Florida National Guard's 44th Civil Support Team conducted training this week in West Palm Beach, Florida, as part of a skills validation exercise for U.S. Army North.

Donning their full body protective gear, designed to keep the Guardsmen alive in an environment contaminated by chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents, members of the team carefully investigated an abandoned courthouse building in search of CBRN threats. The realistic exercise was undertaken by the CST as part of their evaluation, certifying their valuable skillset of hunting down CBRN agents in urban areas, as required by U.S. Army North, every 18 months.

The team has received more than 25,000 hours of highly specialized training from military sources like the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Disease and the U.S. Army Chemical School to prepare them for any real CBRN attacks in Florida.

"These Soldiers and Airmen are highly trained; probably 22 of the most talented people you'll find in the state of Florida," said James Barkley, division chief of Civil Support Training Activity United States Army North.

22 full-time Army and Air Force personnel covering 14 different military specialties staff the 44th CST. Army Sgt. Ryan M. Howerton, a survey team member, dons his gear and breathing apparatus to respond to the current scenario presented by U.S. Army North for evaluation. He and Air Force Tech. Sgt. Danny Torres, survey team chief, are a two-man team that will enter the contamination site to evaluate the threat.

"We're the guys that go down range and do a recon to find out what's down there and then take samples to bring back to the lab," said Howerton.

The 44th CST is one of two Florida National Guard full-time response teams for emergencies or terrorist events that involve weapons of mass destruction, toxic industrial chemicals or natural disasters. The CST can help pave the way for the identification and arrival of follow-on state and federal response assets; they provide initial advice and are the first military responders on the ground.

Torres said, "We're usually there, but nobody knows we are. We need to be on point and know to expect the unexpected."