34th CST conducts training with federal, state and local first responders

Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team participate in a training exercise with local, state and federal agencies Sept. 18, 2020, in Glen Allen, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

GLEN ALLEN, Va. — Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen assigned to the Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team partnered with federal, state and local first responders to conduct a training exercise Sept. 18, 2020, in Glen Allen, Virginia. The exercise capped off a week-long interagency training designed to help grow the partnerships between the different agencies and help them more effectively work together in real-world scenarios. 

Together with representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Virginia State Police, Virginia Beach Police Department and Richmond Police Department, 16 members of the CST provided their unique response capability to help tackle different training scenarios simulating different chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive threats. 

In real-world response scenarios, the CST supports first responder agencies. Conducting this type of training with the agencies they would be supporting is beneficial to everyone, according to Capt. Jason Dodge, the 34th CST’s deputy commander.

“Interagency training helps first responders in the community identify any capability or tactics, techniques and procedures gaps that may exist,” said Dodge. “Also, witnessing how a different agency approaches a scenario helps all CST members, from leadership and how their questions are informed to the boots-on-the-ground Soldiers interpreting and communicating their downrange findings.”

The CST, together with response teams from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Virginia State Police and Virginia Beach Police Department, tackled training scenarios involving different chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive threats during the event. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

Responding to three different mock scenarios at a local youth sports complex, the collective group broke up into three teams comprised of members from each agency, forcing them to work together and better learn the capabilities each entity provides in a response scenario. 

“Breaking the class up into small groups representing all agencies was essential to ensure everyone had a chance to see how each organization operated. Not only that, it was a great opportunity for those members to form personal relationships with each other,” said Dodge. “In the first responder community we say it’s important to get to know each other before we have to work together after a disaster occurs.”

The mock scenarios the teams had to negotiate under the watchful eye of training cadre included various and complex explosives or hazardous materials threats, in some cases requiring several different response capabilities to be employed. Mock victims were used to help make the scenarios as realistic as possible. 

“One training scenario involved a CST member exhibiting unique medical symptoms secured to a dangerous device,” explained Dodge. “Responding CST members drew on their background to ensure responding law enforcement personnel donned the appropriate level of PPE. In return, the LE members rescued the CST member from the dangerous device.“

The field exercise was the culminating event of a week-long interagency training. (U.S. National Guard photo by Mike Vrabel)

In the days leading up to the culminating field exercise, the different agencies conducted classroom training at the Sgt. Bob Slaughter Headquarters at Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia, familiarizing each other on each agency’s unique capabilities and specialties. 

“The teamwork between the agencies was cordial and energizing. We spent most of the week on our feet demonstrating equipment and the training scenarios ensured everyone had a chance to contribute their specialty,” said Dodge.

The training capped off a busy summer of training exercises for the CST, including field training events in Maryland, Henrico County, Virginia, and Virginia Beach, Virginia. 

The 34th CST is divided into six sections: command, operations, communications, administration/logistics, medical/analytical and survey. Each team member completes between 500 and 900 hours of specialized training during their first year of assignment and continues advanced training throughout their tenure 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 team’s primary response area 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. They maintain personnel on standby at all times, can deploy an advance team within 90 minutes of notification and the main body deploys within three hours.

A unit’s assigned transportation includes a command vehicle, operations trailer, a communications vehicle called the unified command suite which provides a broad spectrum of secure communications capabilities, an analytical laboratory system vehicle containing a full suite of analysis equipment to support the complete characterization of an unknown hazard and several general purpose vehicles. The CST normally deploys using its assigned vehicles, but it can be airlifted as required.