Certification: The 85th CST Feels

 the Heat, Stays in the Kitchen

 

Written by Maj. Hank McIntire

Published August 10, 2005

       

85th CST members prepare to remove hazardous material from a building during an exercise in Ephraim July 19.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

85th CST members prepare to remove hazardous material from a building during an exercise in Ephraim July 19.

 

EHPRAIM and SOUTH SALT LAKE, Utah — The heat was on for the Utah National Guard’s 85th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team (WMD CST) July 19 and 21.

Not only did the 22 highly trained, full-time members of the Air and Army National Guard battle the temperatures of a hot Utah summer, but they also underwent a certification exercise to see if they could meet federal standards for assisting local civil authorities in the event of an actual chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives (CBRNE) incident.

The mission of the 85th CST is to respond upon request through their chain of command to identify hazardous substances, assess current and projected consequences, advise local incident commanders on response measures and assist with appropriate requests for additional support.

An evaluation team from Fifth U.S. Army, responsible for providing training assistance and support for reserve-component units, observed the 85th in action July 19 in Ephraim and then evaluated the unit on 15 separate tasks at a simulated hazmat incident in South Salt Lake July 21. 

Capt. Carol Scott, right, and a Manti emergency medical services technician assess the condition of a victim during the Ephraim exercise.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Capt. Carol Scott, right, and a Manti emergency medical services technician assess the condition of a victim during the Ephraim exercise.

In the Ephraim scenario, located at the Snow College Theatre Scene Shop warehouse, first responders found suspected hazardous substances and a victim with symptoms of chemical poisoning. The 85th was contacted for support, and they made the two-hour drive from West Jordan to respond.

Upon arrival, the 85th worked with local authorities to assess and respond to the suspected CBRNE hazard. Local agencies involved in the exercise included the Sanpete and Sevier County Sheriffs, fire departments from Ephraim, Fairview, Mount Pleasant, and Sterling and police and ambulance units from Ephraim and Manti.

True to the goal of achieving seamless interoperability between civilian and military resources, two local firefighters from Fairview and Sterling donned chemical protective suits along with members of the 85th CST to enter the building to make an initial assessment of the hazardous-material threat.

85th CST Commander Lt. Col. Wendy Cline, center, confers with first responders on scene in Ephraim.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

85th CST Commander Lt. Col. Wendy Cline, center,

confers with first responders on scene in Ephraim.

Sanpete County Deputy Sheriff Kevin Holman, who played a major role in setting up the Ephraim exercise, said the multi-agency effort paid several dividends.

“Everybody came together with an open mind, we went to work and we got it done. That’s how it should be,” said Holman. “The best part was that our guys didn’t know the Guard was coming. They realized that this was something beyond their scope and actually decided on their own to call for help from the 85th CST.”

Ephraim Fire Chief Ronde Larsen also saw the benefit of having his all-volunteer fire department work with the Guard.

“Up until about three months ago, most of us didn’t have any idea that the [85th CST] even did this,” Larsen said. “Now that we know they’re there, they’re a good resource and if we need to use them we won’t hesitate to call them.”

Capt. Rich Shuck briefs 85th CST members prior to the team's second entry into the building during the Ephraim exercise.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Capt. Rich Shuck briefs 85th CST members prior to the team's

second entry into the building during the Ephraim exercise.

The Ephraim exercise was a final opportunity for the 85th CST to tune up for their certification exercise.  At the conclusion of the day’s training, 85th CST Commander Lt. Col. Wendy Cline reflected on her team’s performance.

“We’ve shown that through the right training we can deploy light, smart and fast. Coordination with our local responders will be the key.” Cline said. “This is the first time we’ve worked with some of our hazmat counterparts in the state and for them, it was a huge eye-opener to see that we a great resource we will be to both train and respond with.”

“The excitement that this brought to this region today, I think that was the fun part. They were asking, ‘When can we train with you again?’” added Cline.

Master Sgt. Darren Budge, unit first sergeant, noted some learning points from the Ephraim exercise but was confident that the 85th would make the adjustments necessary to do well for the actual certification.

Members of the 85th respond to a "man-down" situation in Ephraim.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Members of the 85th respond to a "man-down" situation in Ephraim.

“Every training event is a learning event. Any time you learn things it’s a good thing,” Budge said. “We focus on not making the same mistakes twice, and today showed how far we’ve really come in the past year.”

Leaders of the 85th knew that both scenarios would be no-notice exercises. With one scenario under their belt and little time to recover from it, the call came just two days later at 4 a.m. when the South Salt Lake Fire and Police Departments responded to a dumpster fire, vehicle explosion and the discovery of a suspicious substance in an abandoned warehouse. The 85th was on scene in just over 90 minutes and began setting up operations.

One task for the 85th was to set up and maintain reach-back communications with government agencies for local responders in the event that backup communications were needed. From the incident site the unit could then pass secure or classified information back and forth between the 85th and federal agencies if necessary.

The 85th CST entry team moves their equipment from one building to another in South Salt Lake.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

The 85th CST entry team moves their equipment

from one building to another in South Salt Lake.

“This capability is driven by the CST’s mission to support the local incident commander. If their own organic communications cannot meet that requirement, then they’ll look to the [CST] to get them on the system,” said Jack Carr, a Fifth Army evaluator.

In South Salt Lake members of the 85th CST put all their training and experience into this do-or-die exercise. They made a total of three entries into the warehouse to assess and mitigate the hazard, responded to a “man-down” situation where a team member became ill or injured and could not continue their assigned mission, interfaced with first responders, dealt with the media and endured the 100-degree heat.

South Salt Lake Fire Chief Steve Foote was impressed with the amount of training and resources and expertise that the 85th made available to his department.

Sgt. 1st Class Ray Sanchez, reconnaissance chief for the 85th CST, contacts the entry team via radio in South Salt Lake.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Sgt. 1st Class Ray Sanchez, reconnaissance chief for the 85th CST, contacts the entry team via radio in South Salt Lake.

“We didn’t know until today what they really can do for us. It expands our capability tenfold,” Foote said. “Regardless of what level of government you work in, we all have the same goal to protect life, protect property, and make sure our citizens know that their tax dollars are being spent wisely and can sleep well at night.”

Lt. Col. Bart Berry, Joint Director of Military Support for the Utah National Guard and military liaison with state and federal entities participating in the exercise was equally impressed.

“The 85th has been needed in the state for quite a few years. They bring a robust capability to the program. These guys are relevant and ready, and we’re excited to have them,” Berry said.

In the end, the 85th completed all 15 evaluated tasks and passed with flying colors. A proud Lt. Col. Wendy Cline summed up what certification now means to the unit.

Sgt. Tom Lux, rests between entries into the building during the South Salt Lake exercise.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Sgt. Tom Lux, rests between entries into the building during the South Salt Lake exercise.

“As Governor Huntsman’s 911 WMD response force, we are really representing the very best of what the National Guard is all about.  We have an awesome responsibility and role in protecting our neighbors and families as Citizen-Soldiers.” 

Putting it even more succinctly, Capt. Dean Roberts, operations officer for the 85th said, “We are the pointy end of the spear for homeland defense.”

Now members of the 85th can respond to actual CBRNE emergencies in support of local first responders throughout the state. They not only have a certification they can hang on their wall, but they can also count on the respect and appreciation of their civilian counterparts.

“It’s been a long road. This week is the culmination of the past year.” Budge said. “We have an important role, and we’re proud to represent the National Guard and the citizens of Utah.”

Capt. Jared Gailey, team scientist for the 85th CST, gives an initial assessment to a member of the Fifth Army evaluation team during the South Salt Lake exercise.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Capt. Jared Gailey, team scientist for the 85th CST, gives an initial assessment to a member of the Fifth Army evaluation team during the South Salt Lake exercise.