Virginia to field WMD teams

by Maj. D. D. Magaldi
192d Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The Defense Department announced plans earlier this year to form 17 more Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams, bringing the total nationwide to 27. Virginia is one of the states currently in the process of fielding one of these additional teams.

The teams, originally called Rapid Assessment and Detection teams, are responsible for deploying and assisting civil first responders in the event of a weapons of mass destruction incident, said Charles Cragin, principle deputy assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs.

The Federal Government trains, equips and develops doctrine for the teams, Cragin explained. The teams will always work in support of civilian agencies and unless federalized, will remain under the control of the governors of the host state.

In addition to the WMD team being developed in Virginia, new teams will also be based in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. They are scheduled to be mission ready in 2001, between March and July.

The team being fielded by the Virginia National Guard will include 22 full-time AGR (Active Guard Reserve) positions, including a couple officer billets and several E-6 through E-8 positions. The team will be assigned to Fort Pickett; however, individuals selected for the team can anticipate long training schools and regular temporary duty assignments once the response team is activated, according to Lt. Col. Bill Prosise, state headquarters. The team will be comprised of a variety of crisis response specialists, including medical personnel. The jobs will require stringent physical fitness requirements and demand only the sharpest, most motivated types of people, Prosise pointed out.

To find out more about WMD team openings, specific job requirements, and application procedures, visit the VaANG Intranet or Internet Web page at: www.va.ang.af.mil/ and click on the "Jobs (Army/Air)" hypertext link.

The first 10 designated teams are completing training and are coming on line as of April, 2000, in Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington.

The teams "work collaboratively with local and state first providers," Cragin said. "The teams consist of 22 full-time members of the Army or Air National Guard. The personnel selected for these additional teams will undergo 15 months of rigorous individual and unit training and then will be evaluated for operational certification."

This is the second phase of an initiative started in fiscal 1998. (Defense Secretary William Cohen) was apprised by first responders in many communities that one bit of expertise they needed was the technical expertise to identify and assess particular chemical or biological agents that may be an instrument
of a terrorist attack," Cragin said. These teams give local officials that capability.

The units have two major pieces of equipment: a mobile analytical lab and a mobile communications facility. The first allows the teams to identify chemical and biological agents in the field. The second allows the team to coordinate communications among the first responders and all other areas.

"If they need information from a medical laboratory, they can connect from the communications vehicle," Cragin said. The team's communications capability also allows all local, state and federal authorities to speak to each other.

While the 27 teams will be based in 26 states California will have two teams local agreements will allow the teams to work across state lines. So, for example, the New York team could answer a call in Connecticut and Illinois team could work in Wisconsin.