Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Guam, New Mexico Guard CSTs perform disaster training

Members of the joint Civil Support Team collect, mark and bag unknown chemical samples on the suspected terrorist tugboat Pono during a simulated training event in Honolulu, April 24, 2012. (Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Matt Young)

By Army National Guard Matt Young, Hawaii National Guard

HONOLULU -- The New Mexico National Guard’s 64th Civil Support Team along with Guam’s 94th CST recently participated in the multi-agency exercise Kai Malu O Hawaii - Protected Waters of Hawaii - and responded to a call from the Coast Guard about a stolen tugboat.

The stolen tugboat named Pono was seized during the night of April 24 by the U.S. Coast Guard off the shore of Oahu. Eight Coast Guard members boarded ready for action and discovered four vials of an unknown substance, bomb-making materials and mortars. They brought the boat back to the docks and called upon a Civil Support Team to investigate the findings. Fortunately, this was only a training exercise.

The 14 members of the combined CST are specifically qualified to deal with hazardous materials, have more than 1,000 hours of training and are trying to teach area responders how to better handle potential disasters and terrorist attacks during this event.

“Even a small-scale attack directed at a maritime target in Hawaii could disrupt maritime operations and create an immediate need for increased security at all regional ports,” said Ray Toves, director, Civil Support Team Training and Readiness Division, 196th Infantry Brigade.

“An attack using a weapon of mass destruction would further complicate the emergency response efforts and would create a tremendous burden on a wide variety of local, state and federal recourses,” Toves said.

When the CST arrives on the scene, they work for the local incident commander and bring him a unique capability to analyze suspected hazardous agents on site. Their first step is to set up their operations area, ready their medical truck, check all equipment and set up a decontamination area.

“The first thing we try to do is have our teams set up the equipment and prep the [decontamination] area while the leaders collect the latest [intelligence] to brief the entry team,” said Army Maj. Xavier Miller, commander of the 64th CST, New Mexico.

During the KOH exercise, the three-person entry team, which consisted of team chief Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Cruz of the 94th CST, Army Spc. Patrick Gallegos of the 64th CST and Air Force Senior Airman Christine Eclavea of the 94th CST, got their mission brief, suited up and proceeded to board the tugboat.

Once on board, the entry CST began taking samples of the air and checking for abnormal readings on their machines that would detect anything out of the ordinary.

As the CST made their way into the kitchen of the tugboat they came upon the vials, bomb materials and mortars. The team continued to take readings, air samples and pictures of the suspect devices and carefully bagged the vials to bring them back for further testing.

While these procedures are standard for responding to a hazardous material threat, not everything about this training exercise was what the teams are used to.

“This mission was unique in that we were working on a tugboat,” Gallegos said. “When I saw what we were going into, I was like ‘whoa’, this will be interesting.”

One of the key factors I thought was performing missions that some of the participating CST members may not have been used to, Miller said.

Miller believes KOH was a great and unique opportunity to be able to come out and work with other CSTs from Guam and across the states.