HARRISBURG, Pa. - Members of the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 3rd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team conducted a two-day training proficiency exercise Feb. 15 and Feb. 17.
“It was my honor today to meet with members of the Pennsylvania National Guard and support their work preparing our commonwealth for the security challenges we face,” said Gov. Josh Shapiro, who observed a portion of the team’s training. “This unit’s specialized and quick response capabilities to safeguard our communities is exactly what the Pennsylvania National Guard is known for.”
U.S. Army North conducted the evaluation, testing the team’s ability to identify nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological contaminants, advise on response measures and support local authorities.
“This exercise is very important for us,” said Air Force Maj. Jake Derivan, commander, 3rd WMD-CST. “It’s our certification, and as a team it says we can do the mission that’s been assigned for us to do.”
More importantly, this exercise “tests all our resources and capabilities at one time,” said Derivan, who has been the team’s commander since May and a part of the team for 14 years.
The 3rd WMD-CST is a 22-person Pennsylvania Army and Air National Guard unit. It responds to incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear high-yield explosives by identifying substances, toxic industrial chemicals and materials, and disasters.
“The intense training and extreme readiness of the 3rd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team is another example of how the Pennsylvania National Guard works to make our communities safer,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Schindler, acting adjutant general. “After observing today’s exercise, it is clear that this team – on call at all times – is ready to respond throughout the commonwealth if any hazardous incident threatens the loss of life or property.”
The job includes developing partnerships with emergency response agencies and organizations across the commonwealth.
“I get to interact and coordinate with our civilian partners, work hand-in-hand with civilian partners,” Derivan said. “Probably most important, we actively have an outreach program where we look for new partners and engage with them, offering training and helping build relationships.”
Establishing partnerships is critical so that in an emergency, the team already has a rapport with other first responders.
“The CST brings a wide range of skills and specialized training to this exercise, and working with them in this setting helps us all see and understand their capabilities,” said Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Randy Padfield. “They are a valuable partner to all levels of government in our mission to protect everyone in the commonwealth.”
The Army North evaluators put the team through several scenarios to test members’ ability to handle difficult tasks.
“This exercise is a good opportunity to ensure we are proficient with the equipment we use,” Army Staff Sgt. Brandi Tipton.
Members of the 3rd WMD-CST must have more than 1,800 hours of specialized training conducted by the U.S. Army Chemical School, Defense Nuclear Weapons School, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Fire Academy, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Defense, FBI and the Department of Energy.
“Teamwork allows us to work together; everyone has a job and focusing on their specific task makes our response more efficient,” said Army 1st Sgt. Adam Wetzel, a member of the unit for 10 years.
“We always fall back on our training, so the more we train the better prepared we are to react to real-world situations,” said Air Force Maj. Arthur Prough Jr., 3rd WMD-CST deputy commander.