- “The more we can train with the people we are going to work with,” said Air Guard Capt. Jason Harrison, “the better the response goes.”
In the Army, “train as you fight” is a time-tested maxim. For the members of the Texas National Guard’s 6th Civil Support Team, whose mission is chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear testing, identification, and monitoring, it means that every scenario should be treated as a dangerous incident in need of immediate attention. They demonstrated this mentality for two days in Pharr, Texas, when they teamed up with the Pharr and McAllen Fire Departments for interagency collective training simulating hazardous contaminations of local sites.
“The day's exercise incorporated multiple facets of CBRN/HAZMAT response,” said Harrison, who serves as a survey team leader within the 6th CST, “including an exercise scenario involving malicious use of radioactive material, hazardous chemicals, and life-threatening biological samples.”
The training, which took place Sept. 3-4, found the team utilizing warehouse structures in Pharr to simulate an urban environment where such incidents might take place. By incorporating their civilian counterparts from the local fire departments into the training, the CST reinforced their role as supporters of civil authorities when disaster strikes.
“These types of joint exercises allow for both entities to practice real-life scenarios with civilian counterparts and Texas Army National Guard units,” said Army Guard Maj. Chol Chong, the deputy commander for the 6th CST. “The end state of this practice exercise allows for both entities to understand each other’s capabilities and to rapidly mitigate any risks to the civilian population.”
The Guard’s partners within the McAllen Fire Department additionally used the exercise as a training opportunity for their hazardous materials technician class.
“They are conducting a HAZMAT course and brought all of the students over,” said Army Guard Lt. Col. William Phillips, commander of the 6th CST. “The HAZMAT Tech class observers stayed for five hours and received full access to all of our processes and procedures, and sent observers on entry.”
This entry refers to how the different units engage a hazardous zone, using established guidelines for order, timing, and communication.
“The Pharr and McAllen FDs performed the initial entry, as would usually happen on scene, and back-briefed the CST on what they located,” said Harrison. “Every real-world emergency that the CST has responded to during my four-plus years on the team has seen us paired with local responders. For example, we performed joint entries during the initial response to the West, Texas, disaster.”
This training exercise additionally served as a precursor to the 6th CST’s Training Proficiency Exercise scheduled for Sept. 25. That culminating event, validated by U.S. Army North, is a regular training requirement for certification to conduct the civil support team mission, and must be completed every 18 months.
“The system works,” said Harrison. “We are a customer service entity and enjoy doing what we were built for, civil support.”
The 6th CST conducts frequent training events like this throughout the state, regularly working alongside their civilian counterparts and developing strong interagency relationships. These preparations and relationships are key to their continued proficiency and instrumental to the success of their mission.
“It was a long day,” said Phillips, “but very valuable.”