By Staff Sgt. A.J. Coyne
RICHMOND, Va. - In order to gauge its ability to respond to potential biological, chemical, nuclear, radiological and explosive incidents at a moment’s notice, the Virginia National Guard’s 34th Civil Support Team conducted an evaluation exercise June 8 at Cloverleaf Mall in Richmond.
The 34th CST, which is based at Fort Pickett, responds and provides support to civil authorities at potential biological, chemical, nuclear, radiological and explosive incidents. It can identify these agents and substances, assess current and projected consequences, advise on response measures and assist with requests for additional state support.
The team’s primary response area includes a 250-mile radius from its home station at Fort Pickett and stretches as far north as Pennsylvania and as far south as South Carolina. The team can be ready to deploy within two hours of its initial notification.
“The point of this exercise is to learn from our mistakes and see where we are,” explained Lt. Col. Jeffrey Hice, commander of the 34th CST. “It’s less a report card and more of an evaluation to see where we are.”
The day-long event tested the entire 22-person team, which was evaluated on 15 different tasks by personnel from Fifth Army headquarters in Atlanta. They were on hand to help evaluate the team and give it feedback on its performance.
“That’s why it’s important to bring the team from Fifth Army in,” Hice said. “They can offer another perspective, another point of view on our performance. But this is a well-trained, solid team and they’re performing very well.”
The 34th CST is one of 32 such units in the country and is equipped with a wide range of the latest military and commercial equipment. It is made up of full-time Army and Air National Guard personnel who bring a wide range of career experience from the civilian sector. Each team member completes over 850 hours of technical training by agencies including National Fire Academy, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The team trains constantly in preparation for a real-world scenario. In fact, the exercise in Richmond was the 34th CST’s 16th major exercise in the past year, according to Hice.
“The main thing is to identify anything present at the site, whether it’s chemical, biological or nuclear” he said. “Then we help determine how it will affect the local population.”