Missouri National Guard Sgts. Hugh Mills and Dale Kaiser, both of the 7th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team, walk around inside of Scottrade Center in St. Louis as part of a multi-agency exercise. (Photo by Matthew J. Wilson)
By Matthew J. Wilson
ST. LOUIS - The Missouri National Guard's 7th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team worked with about 15 different organizations Sunday during a training exercise at Scottrade Center, home of the St. Louis Blues NHL team.
The scenario revolved around several bomb explosions in and around the venue during an event, as well as chaos being caused by one or more shooters in the arena. More than 35 volunteers played the role of victims, several of whom were wounded or killed.
After first-responders came to the aid of the volunteers and SWAT teams captured the shooters, it was determined that the bombs may have spread some type of radiological material inside the arena. That's when the 7th Civil Support Team was sent in to the threat area to confirm that the material was radioactive, identify the radioactive material and help determine the best way to clean it up so it couldn't cause further injury.
The Jefferson City based team's commander, Lt. Col. Raymond White, said the purpose of the exercise was to see how well all the different agencies could work together.
"We needed to see how well everyone is integrated into this unified command," said White, who lives in Ashland. "We had to deal with the challenges of the coordination and communication between agencies."
The team's mission is to assess suspected or known terrorist threats, advise civilian authorities of appropriate responses, and assist local emergency responders with follow-on forces in incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive weapons of mass destruction.
Made up of both Army and Air National Guardsmen, the 22-person active Guard unit must be capable of sending out an advance party team within 90 minutes at all times to investigate potential threats that can range from mass sickness to mysterious white powders to unidentified contaminations.
"This is what our whole job is," White said of the exercise. "Our job is to come into an incident like this and support the first responders."
The highlight of the exercise for the team was getting to train in the real-world chaos that would occur in an actual event of this magnitude.
"This was very much a challenge, but very realistic of what you would get at a large-scale event," White said. "There was so much confusion that it was so realistic to test each person on how they would react. In the military, it's called 'The Fog of War' - the confusion of everything that is going on and everybody trying to understand what their role is and how to work together as a team."
Capt. Theresa Wagner, operations officer for the team, helped coordinate the event and called it a success.
"The focus is getting to meet people, so they know who we are and will call us in the case of a real emergency," Wagner said.
Wagner, who lives in Linn, also was an evaluator for the civilian hazardous material teams.
"St. Louis Hazmat sent in three teams, one right after the other," Wagner said. "They had pretty good turnover in that as soon as one team was going out, another team was going in."
Now that they've worked together, Wagner said she and the rest of the team plan to train with members of the St. Louis Hazmat teams in the future.
At the exercise, the team's reconnaissance section made one, two-person entry into the threat zone with detection equipment to try to identify what was in the bombs.
Although he's been with the team a few months, it was the first time Sgt. Dale Kaiser, a reconnaissance section team chief, was able to go into the threat zone as an active participant.
"It was pretty cool - it was neat," said Kaiser, who lives in Jamestown. "But there is a lot I've got to learn."
Kaiser recently completed his initial training in the Civil Skills Support Course at Fort Leonard Wood.
"They taught us a good deal of stuff in the Civil Skills Support Course, but there still a lot of stuff when you get back to your unit," Kaiser said. "I'm in the process of learning that stuff."
It usually takes a member of the reconnaissance section about three years to complete all of their required schools.
For the exercise, Kaiser said he learned the importance of following the unit's standard operating procedures, like not bunching together when working with radiological material.
"We've got to separate ourselves and do our own separate spaces," he said. "There is no point on doubling up on something with the same equipment."
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