Dec. 2, 2010

Team of WMD experts evaluated at Richmond chemical plant 

By Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

RICHMOND, Va. — In the early morning hours of Nov. 16, while many Richmonders were waking to start their daily grind, an alert went out of a possible Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, High-yield Explosive incident at the James River DuPont Chemical Plant. This prompted the rapid response of the Virginia National Guard’s 34th Civil Support Team, a special unit able to deploy rapidly, assist local first-responders in determining the nature of an attack, provide medical and technical advice, and pave the way for the identification and arrival of follow-on state and federal military response assets.


Lt. Col. William Patton, commander of the 34th Civil Support Team, is briefed on site at the James River DuPont Chemical Plant Nov. 16 where earlier a report of an explosion and possible chemical took place as part of an exercise. The Soldiers of the CST had Solders on site within two hours of recieving the alert of the attack. (Courtesy photo)

Within 90 minutes of receiving the notification the 34th CST had an advance party out the door and heading to the site of the potential incident.  Twenty minutes later the main body of the unit was en route to assess the situation and evacuate the area if necessary. The unit made two entries into the incident site, according to 1st Sgt. Bruce Trask, the unit’s top noncommissioned officer. They sent in a reconnaissance team which discovered a detonated improvised explosive device and a mason jar labeled “surprise.” The next team to enter, a sampling team, found traces of sarin and cobalt-60 in the area.

 Fortunately for the plant workers and the people of Richmond, this was just part of an exercise to test the capabilities of the 19 Air and Army Guardsmen on the scene. The 34th CST trains to respond to incidents like the one at the DuPont Chemical plant through 40-hour exercises 12 times a year. This latest exercise was one of two annual training events which are evaluated externally by subject matter experts.

Although the unit trains year round, the 34th CST ramped up its training efforts to prepare for the mission at the James River Plant to ensure they were ready for the National Guard Bureau-mandated evaluation.


Soldiers from the Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team treat a casualty during an external evaluation exercise at the James River DuPont Chemical Plant Nov. 16. The Soldiers of the CST are trained to react to potential chemical, biological, radiological nuclear incidents in a moments notice. (Courtesy photo)

“We doubled our exercise schedule for the fourth quarter of [this year] right up to the exercise,” said 1st Lt. Derek Koenig, operations officer for the 34th. “This was done not only for this evaluation, but because the team brought on several new members in key leadership positions and it is pertinent that our operating procedures become second nature.”

“This evaluation confirmed what we already know,” added Koenig. “We can effectively respond in service to the Virginia National Guard and the state of Virginia at a moment’s notice.”

The primary mission of the 34th is to support local and state authorities at domestic weapons of mass destruction/CBRNE incident sites by identifying agents and substances, assessing current and projected consequences, advising on response measures, and assisting with requests for additional military support. The 34th is constantly working to improve its ability to communicate and work side-by side with local law enforcement and state authorities to achieve their mission goals.

“The team was well organized and did a great job working with the community and first responders to make sure the civilians and public surroundings were safe,” said Lt. Col. William Patton, 34th CST commander. “This training was exactly what we were looking to do to make sure we are in line with the first responders and the community. It is some of the best training the civil support teams have.”

“The unit is certified to respond to any CBRN incident, or any man-made terrorist activities within the commonwealth,” noted Patton.

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