ROTTERDAM, N.Y. – More than 20 Airmen and Soldiers from the New York National Guard’s 2nd Civil Support Team (CST) deployed to an abandoned office building to search for a simulated blister agent lab during training on Nov. 10.
Based at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, New York, the team is responsible for finding and mitigating weapons of mass destruction across upstate New York. Keeping training as realistic as possible, an 81,000-square-foot facility owned by the Galesi Group hosted the scenario awaiting the team.
“We try not to do the same venue every time, but it’s nice when we come to this venue, we can just go to another part of the building,” said Air Force Maj. Ron McCarthy, the 2nd CST medical operations officer and incident commander for the training.
The training scenario was built around an individual whose parent died due to COVID-19, causing him to seek revenge at the general public, McCarthy explained.
He planned to target participants in a local 5k run by putting chemical agents into hand sanitizer.
The details of the training scenario help build realism for the team and help guide their actions for site searches, McCarthy said.
A series of events in the scenario led authorities to the industrial park where the suspect worked, resulting in a search of his office.
“This is definitely necessary with all of the different things going on in the world right now,” said Army Staff Sgt. Natasia Cooper, the administrative noncommissioned officer (NCO) and decontamination NCO for the 2nd CST. “To be trained up and prepared, knowledgeable and ready to go if something were to actually happen.”
The training scenario starts for the team when a first responder finds a possible weapon of mass destruction or a lab setup. It is at this point the civil support team is contacted through state emergency management channels.
Once on-site, the team sets up a decontamination area to treat any injured or contaminated people or equipment. A two-person survey team in HAZMAT suits with breathing equipment then enters the building. They check every room for levels of hazardous materials and photograph every room, physically marking each room as they go.
When they find hazardous materials, they can test it on the spot. They collect samples and take them to the CST’s mobile lab for further analysis on location to assist first responders.
“If it was a real-world situation, being that we train this way, going into it there shouldn’t be any additional nerves or worrying about your ability to actually do your job and do it well,” Cooper said.
Officials in most counties across New York are aware of the 2nd CST’s abilities to deal with such scenarios, McCarthy said.
“Some are very aware of us; some of never heard of us,” McCarthy said. “I’ve been doing this since 2009, and we’ve been all over New York State, reaching out to different counties. We’ve touched every part of this state.”
As a result of this outreach, the team has a presence at many of New York’s biggest and most popular events, McCarthy said.
“It’s obviously been working because our missions have grown throughout the state,” McCarthy said. “People requesting us for standby missions. We don’t just do response; we do standby also.”
The Nov. 10 training was one of many events that will lead up to a certification event in 2021, McCarthy said.
“We’re hitting all of our time hacks, moving with a purpose,” Cooper said. “Practicing and getting the reps in, and everyone is doing an awesome job.”