34th CST excels during external evaluation, certified as fully mission capable

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Soldiers and Airmen from the Virginia National Guard’s Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team conduct a Training Proficiency Evaluation June 23, 2015, at the City Stadium in Richmond, Va. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

SANDSTON, Va. – For the Soldiers and Airmen of the Virginia National Guard’s Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team hard work and preparation proved instrumental in their validation of 12 collective tasks following an Training Performance Evaluation, earning the overall assessment rating of “Fully Mission Capable,” June 24, 2015, following the exercise at the City Stadium in Richmond, Va.

The evaluation, proctored by U.S. Army North’s Civil Support Readiness Group – East, validated the unit’s core training programs and certified that the unit is fully capable of providing support to first responders in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident.

“The TPE is supposed to evaluate all of our Soldiers and Airmen on their abilities to complete our 12 collective tasks,” said Maj. Michael Booker, commander of the 34th Civil Support Team. “It also shows our higher headquarters that we’re a trained, ready and relevant capability for our commonwealth and nation.”

TPEs occur approximately every 18 months for each of the nation’s 57 CSTs and evaluates the teams on 12 collective tasks consisting of 595 individual tasks, including deploying the team, establishing operations, communications and medical support, conducting survey activities and analytical functions as well as redeployment and recovery operations.

“This exercise was very important to Virginia,” said Lt. Col. Todd E. Peebles, Virginia National Guard deputy director of exercises and implementation. “It validates the CST as fully capable and lets the National Guard Bureau know that we’ve been good stewards of resources and that we’re ready when called upon.”

A normal team consists of 22 full-time Army and Air National Guard personnel, organized into six sections: command, operations, communications, logistics, medical/analytical and survey. The team is equipped with a variety of the latest military and commercial CBRN equipment and maintains on-call team members prepared to deploy an advance team within 90 minutes of notification, with the rest of the team following within three hours. CST members can scientifically identify nearly all chemical, biological and radiological substances, assess current and projected consequences of those hazardous substances, advise the incident commander on response measures and assist with requests for additional support.

“Having an evaluation conducted from an outside source provides an amazing amount of credibility to the organization,” said Derrick M. Johnson, exercise director with Civil Support Readiness Group – East. “We see a lot of teams and our evaluation provides a standardized evaluation process that is tailored to the geographical areas that each team supports.”

This evaluation scenario focused the team’s efforts in an urban setting and focused on the team’s reaction to simulated chemical, biological and radiological hazards at a notional crime scene outside the City Stadium in Richmond, Va. The scenario began with a simulated terrorist attack against a local sporting event where a dispersion device sprayed a homemade, liquid chemical agent over the crowd, a biological toxin was used to poison food from concessions and a radiological device was detonated in the parking lot, according to Booker.

“Our team was well trained going into this evaluation and I’m glad to see that we were able to react so well under the pressure,” Booker said. “Having all three hazards at one scene is rare and the complexity of the situation truly pushed the team’s abilities.”

Maintaining proficiency is an ongoing task for the CST. Each member completes between 500 and 900 hours of specialized training during their first year assigned to the team, with additional advanced training coming late with multiple agencies including the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the National Fire Academy, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The 34th CST’s primary area of responsibility includes a 300-mile radius from its home station at Fort Pickett and stretches as far north as Pennsylvania and as far south as South Carolina.

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34th Civil Support Team conducts external evaluation in Richmond