NEWS | June 12, 2015

Arizona Guard Civil Support Team provides support to first responders

By Army Staff Sgt. Monette Wesolek Arizona National Guard

PHOENIX- Scanners beep and radios squelch at a scene where personnel in hazardous material suits collect samples of a white powdery substance from a suspicious package.

As bystanders look on with curiosity, first responders move them along so members of the Arizona National Guard's 91st Weapons of Mass Destruction-Civil Support Team (WMD-CST) demonstrate their value with the detection and analytics of Nuclear, Biological, Chemical, and Radiological Hazards.

"The 91st CST is a force multiplier, assisting our local, state and federal first responders." said Lt. Col. Neal Rodak, commander of the 91st CST. "Understanding our role and willingness to provide much-needed assets helps us maximize our value with our partners. We are here to meet their needs."

The Soldiers and Airmen of the 91st CST have the capability to respond to a scene, gather information and samples, return to the command post, analyze questionable substances, and provide recommendations to the requesting agency.

"The Glendale Fire Department's relationship with the 91st CST has been invaluable to our efforts in our daily activities," said Glendale Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief Chuck Montgomery. "We learn a great deal from them and are happy to work side by side with them on scene."

Training is a challenge for members of the 91st CST. Demands to support high-profile events, such as the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, as well as other major events throughout the region, demonstrate how balancing mission requirements, with a high tempo training schedule can be a daunting task for this 22 man unit.

"Our job is to be ready and able to assist our civilian partners as much as we can," said Rodak. "The more we train outside our comfort zone, the more value we bring to the fight; even if we don't use those skills every day."

A new CST member will spend the majority of their first year in schools and training to learn their role on this highly technical team. Upon return from formal schooling, members receive additional training in areas such as confined space and water rescues.

"That first year is spent learning how to run our equipment and identify hazardous agents that may be present during an incident," said Army Staff Sgt. Tyler Johansen, Survey Team Chief for the 91st CST. "We don't offer a lot of manpower as a 22 man unit, but we do offer a lot of expertise and specialized skill sets."

In addition to their specialized training, the Soldiers and Airmen of the 91st CST must also meet their annual training requirements for the Army and Air Guard.

Members of the CST come from all military backgrounds and go through a rigorous selection process to join this specialized group of Soldiers and Airmen. Potential candidates must meet specific medical and physical requirements as well as unit specific fitness and protective gear adaptability tests.

The 91st CST is one of 57 Civil Support Teams authorized in the United States, its territories and the District of Columbia. Receiving their certification to operate in 2002, this specialized unit has been serving side by side with local and federal agencies for more than 13 years.