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Home : News
NEWS | March 23, 2020

Michigan Guard civil support team leads to safer communities

By Master Sgt. David Eichaker Michigan National Guard

DETROIT – The Michigan National Guard, FBI, Michigan State Police and Detroit police joined in a cross-agency exercise at Ford Field to respond to potential threats at major events.

The 1.85 million-square-feet venue, which can seat more than 72,000 visitors, challenged the Michigan National Guard Civil Support Team (CST) – the community’s first line of defense during events attended by many people – with a dynamic training environment.

“Part of our mission requires us to frequently work alongside the FBI, police and firefighters,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kelly Black, commander, 51st Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team (WMD-CST), Michigan National Guard, located at Fort Custer Training Center, Augusta, Michigan. “Through our partnership at a tactical level, we further develop, refine and obtain maximum effectiveness during joint operations.”

The 51st CST routinely travels throughout Michigan conducting training exercises with different local law enforcement agencies.

“We constantly do missions all over the state supporting our local authorities,” said U.S. Army Capt. Ryan Kimball, 51st Civil Support Team operations officer, Michigan Army National Guard. “We’re always working with the local police, fire, FBI, etc., and this time we are working with the Detroit Police Department.”

Even though this is a routine military assignment, the 22-person civil support team’s attire is atypical. Because of more than 20 real-world missions they conduct throughout a year, mixing in with the general population and keeping a low profile is a mission requirement.

“We attend massively populated events and blend in with crowds by wearing civilian clothes instead of a military uniform so it doesn’t distract the public,” said Black. “We routinely preposition part of the team during populated events which include all the Detroit Lions’ home games, the North American International Auto Show and NASCAR events at Michigan International Speedway.”

Even though military uniforms are not visible, team members are prepared.

“Our equipment includes a mobile laboratory, a mobile command suite with satellite communications, as well as detection equipment designed to identify hazards that range from carbon monoxide to radiological isotopes,” said Black. “It would take four C-17 Globemasters to transport the full team with equipment.”

“To operate this equipment, we need highly trained members, which includes nuclear medicine science officers, medics, physician assistants, medical operations officers, communications noncommissioned officers, emergency managers and more,” he said.

During an actual event, if the CST detects any weapons, members alert the proper agency; disposition of weapons are up to law enforcement authorities.

“Our job is to identify the hazard and determine if this is a local, state or federal issue,” said Black. “At that point, we fully support which level needs it, which on average is five times a year.”

“Last year we assisted law enforcement in a chemical-based threat, a suspected chemical-murder, a weaponizable narcotic incident, and an accidental chemical release that risked the need to have the community evacuated,” said Black.

The National Guard civil support teams provide an initial assessment of incidents and advise and assist state emergency management, the state’s Joint Force Headquarters, and other key officials including representatives of federal agencies.

“The National Guard Bureau wants civil support teams conducting baseline training to ensure all 57 civil support teams have coordination with their local bomb squads, state police, and with the FBI,” said Black. “This week-long training in various types of weapons detections will meet the goal of NGB.”

While the mission of the CST is demanding and constantly evolving, Black says he feels a deep gratification knowing the team’s efforts make a difference, even if they are seldom noticed.

“We are always on call for domestic counterterrorism operations,” said Black. “We’re there to protect the public and to keep the community safe.”