ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – U.S. Army civilians build mock chemical and biological laboratories to help Chemical Corps Soldiers to prepare for Weapons of Mass Destruction exploitation and elimination missions around the world.
Army civilians from the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Analytical and Remediation Activity (CARA) leverage their scientific expertise and real-world experience to create realistic training sites for troops at bases across the nation.
Headquartered on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, CARA is a one-of-a-kind deployable activity that supports unified land operations with theater validation analysis of chemical, biological and explosive agents and materials. CARA also provides worldwide response for Recovered Chemical Warfare Material, technical escort of surety and non-surety chemical material and remediation support to combatant commanders.
CARA is part of the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command, the U.S. military’s premier all hazards command. From 19 bases in 16 states, Soldiers and Army civilians take on the world’s most dangerous hazards in support of joint, interagency and allied operations.
In addition to CARA, the 20th CBRNE Command is home to 75 percent of the active-duty U.S. Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN) specialists, as well as the 1st Area Medical Laboratory, five WMD Coordination Teams and three Nuclear Disablement Teams.
The CARA Mobile Expeditionary Laboratory (CARA-MEL) organization has built targets and trained Soldiers at locations across the nation, including Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland; Fort Polk, Louisiana; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Stewart, Georgia; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; Fort Cavazos, Texas; National Training Center at Fort Bliss; Fort Irwin, California; and Umatilla Chemical Depot, Oregon.
The CARA teams have also supported joint and international activities with Kuwaiti, British and German government organizations.
“CARA-MEL tailors targets and training to meet unit needs and requirements from kits consisting of glassware to simulate small-scale, clandestine operations to multi-level, full-scale, mock, production facilities for both chemical and biological agents,” said Matthew Kalfoglou, an analytical chemist at CARA.
A native of Richmond, Virginia, Kalfoglou previously served in the U.S. Air Force as a Communications, Navigations and Mission Systems Avionics Technician on the B-52H Stratofortress, where he maintained radios, navigation equipment and electronic mission systems that are required to put bombs on target.
Kalfoglou said the CARA-MEL teams helped prepare Soldiers for the challenges they would face during a mission to eliminate CBRNE threats on the battlefield.
“CARA-MEL assists in exposing Soldiers to realistic scenarios by including a diverse set of laboratory processes and scientific equipment for each target build to address training objectives and emerging threats. By tailoring the target builds, CARA-MEL is able to reinforce foundational skills and enhance the knowledge of the CBRNE Response Teams (CRT), which will create more efficient interactions between the CRT and CARA scientists within a theater deployed environment,” said Kalfoglou.
“Proper sampling and collection techniques lead to a more precise analysis that CARA-MEL can then report to combatant commanders allowing for more informed, real-time, battlefield decisions,” said Kalfoglou, a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University.
Kevin P. Wioland, a chemist at CARA, said the CARA-MEL designed the simulated WMD sites to challenge the CBRN Soldiers by using realistic simulants and increasing the complexity of the targets from laboratory scale to large-scale production process.
Wioland added the simulants and positive control samples provide realistic training and helps to instill trust in the analytical instrumentation teams use during target exploitation.
“Additionally, documents related to research and development of ongoing processes, routes of chemical and biological agent synthesis and means of distribution and dissemination are dispersed throughout the targets to simulate information of potential intelligence value,” Wioland, who is from Jackson, New Jersey. “This fundamentally brings about more challenges for the Soldiers in comparison to training on small-scale clandestine target builds.”
Dr. Edward F. Keen III, a microbiologist at CARA, said three chemists and two microbiologists from CARA recently supported the 46th CBRN Company (Technical Escort), 22nd Chemical Battalion, during a CBRNE Response Team certification exercise on Fort Bliss, Texas.
Keen said the CARA-MEL team created two targets at separate locations, including a large-scale chemical agent production facility and a large-scale biological agent production facility.
A native of Olney, Maryland, who has served in a variety of microbiology and countering WMD positions with the U.S. Army and Army Reserve, Keen said the target builds exceeded the expectations of the battalion, company and CRTs in terms of build quality, target scenario development and CARA’s chemical and biological warfare agent subject matter expertise.
Irvine Swahn, an Army chemist from Street, Maryland, said CARA-MEL leverages its expertise to help improve CRBN unit readiness.
A seasoned chemist who has inspected facilities in more than 20 different countries, Swahn previously served at the United Nations Special Commission on Iraqi disarmament in Iraq and with The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Netherlands.
“The CARA team is comprised of individuals from various disciplines within the scientific community all with differing backgrounds and vast experience in safe site exploitation, sample collection and handling experience,” said Swahn. “As a result, we are able to leverage each individuals’ strengths to build realistic and accurate chemical and biological agent production targets for training.”
Sam Pannoni, a microbiologist from CARA, said exercises on mock WMD sites are conducted to ensure CBRN Soldiers are prepared to exploit chemical and biological sites on the battlefield.
“With CBRN troops expected to perform their mission set during large-scale combat operations, CARA-MEL is pushing to increase the scale, complexity and detail of the training scenarios it provides the troops,” said Pannoni, a native of Babb, Montana. “This includes small clandestine labs to large-scale facilities to state-sponsored factories that provide a realistic exposure to the nuances Soldiers will encounter on a mission.”
In addition to facilitating counter Weapons of Mass Destruction training by constructing targets that simulate chemical and biological agent research and development, production and dissemination, CARA-MEL also provides observer, coach and trainer support during exercises to ensure the teams are correctly identifying, characterizing and sampling targets.
Pannoni said this feedback helps to streamline the decision-making process.
Impressed by the impact that the Army organization has during missions around the world, Pannoni decided to join CARA in 2022.
“What attracted me most to CARA-MEL was the expeditionary element of our mission, which equates to a gritty, boots-on-the-ground approach to problem solving,” said Pannoni.
“This puts our scientists and mobile labs out there in the deployed environment where our advanced capabilities can have the greatest impact, which is exactly where I want to be,” said Pannoni. “I am proud and honored to be a part of a team where my call to serve is as important as the technical expertise I bring to the fight.”