LOUISVILLE, Ky. – If there were ever an incident at Churchill Downs requiring the specially trained chemical unit of the National Guard, thanks to training done this week, they’d be ready.
About 20 Soldiers from the 75th Troop Command’s 41st Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team, National Guard CST Soldiers from seven other states, Louisville police and the FBI conducted the one-day exercise March 13 to prepare for the Kentucky Derby in May.
“This is a preparatory field training exercise to get our team, our support personnel from other states’ CSTs, LMPD and FBI ready for the derby festival,” said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Scott Terrill, 41st CST site safety officer and site safety coordinator. “Whenever we’re activated to come here, in a pre-plan phase to preemptively monitor Churchill Downs and the surrounding area for potential hazards, we work with our local partners.”
Those relationships are essential for smooth operations during high-profile events.
“The collaboration that we get from the National Guard is essential for the public safety here at Churchill Downs,” said Dustin Clem, a 7-year veteran of the LMPD’s hazards incident response team. “We wouldn’t be able to really effectively do some of the WMD mission without the CST. They’re an integral part of our operations and they complement our team very well.”
Terrill said it was the fourth consecutive year of the exercises, with this one the largest.
“This is the first year that we’ve brought in our support personnel,” said Terrill. “All the people who are on ground with us from the out-of-state CSTs are going to be the same people that are going to be working with us in May for the actual derby festival. This is also the first year that we’ve kind of built over the last few years to make these exercises more complex from a scene management perspective.”
The festival attracts more than 100,000 people.
“The last thing you want to do is show up to a scene like this and not know those state, local federal agency leads,” said Terrill. “You don’t want the confusion of not knowing who to talk to, where they’re going to be located.”
Exercise scenarios included setting up a decontamination station near one of the VIP gates used by high-profile dignitaries.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Shackelford, communications team chief and the VIP DECON noncommissioned officer in charge for the exercise, said it was valuable to get together in a low-pressure environment before the derby.
“Setting up these standard operating procedures will be a big help when it comes time that we are needed,” he said.
The 100 or so participants learned valuable lessons from each other during the exercise.
“It was a great day of training,” said Army Maj. Joseph Fontanez, commander of the 41st CST. “Lessons we learned, mistakes were made, and we saw where we were deficient. But now we have the time to address them and be ready come May.”
Teams joining the exercise included the New Hampshire National Guard’s 12th CST; Oklahoma’s 63rd CST; the 101st CST from the Idaho National Guard; Nevada’s 92nd CST; the North Carolina National Guard’s 42nd CST; North Dakota’s 81st CST, and the 54th CST from the Wisconsin National Guard.