SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands - The Washington National Guard's 10th Civil Support Team participated in an exercise that included an active shooter, biological weapons manufacturing and hostages on the island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands. Approximately 100 personnel from various government agencies of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) responded to the scenarios during the period of Aug. 14-17.
The exercise, called Konfitma, a Chamorran term meaning "confirming with the plans," was designed to test an agency's capabilities, policies and procedures and identify interoperability gaps in its response. The Chamorro people are the original inhabitants of Saipan.
The commercial economy of the Northern Mariana Islands heavily depends on the imported goods that make their way onto the islands by way of commercial ship transport. Even if there were a small-scale attack on one of their ports, there could theoretically be a surge in security requirements at all of their ports, as well as a crippling area-wide disruption of maritime operations.
Washington, along with other CSTs from Guam, Hawaii, Utah and Tennessee, provided chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives (CBRNE) support to local first-responders who were the first on the scene. If there was a need for detection for any kind of hazardous chemicals or materials, the CSTs were on site within 30 minutes.
More than merely participating in the exercise itself, Lt. Col. Ricky Thomas, the commander of the 10th CST, said that building and maintaining relationships with the other CSTs is crucial for when real-world events happen.
Thomas said that if there was an actual event that occurred in Saipan or another island in the CNMI, Guam would be the first to respond. If the event proved too much for them to handle, they would reach out to Hawaii first because they're the closest CST. From there they will call the next closest team – Washington.
"If the incident is large enough, they will be reaching out to us," Thomas said. "But the fact that we've worked with them, they know what we bring to the fight and they know our capabilities, makes the response that much more seamless."
Participating in exercises like these in the U.S. Army Pacific's area of responsibility allows us to demonstrate our abilities to our counterparts, said Maj. Jonatthan Uran, deputy commander of the 10th CST.
"Our involvement in this region, just builds those relationships so that when we do get the call to come out here, we know who these teams are, we know their personalities. We can rely upon them and they can rely upon us," Uran added.
In the waning hours of the 72-hour exercise, the 10th CST was called into action at an abandoned shopping mall where notional perpetrators led SWAT teams to a makeshift laboratory where they were manufacturing a nerve agent intended to be used as a weapon of mass destruction. Two members of the team donned their fully-encapsulated Level A chemical protection suit, complete with self-contained breathing apparatuses, and made their way down range to inspect the contaminated area.
Their mission was to take pictures of any precursors in the area, said Tech. Sgt. Tara Broad, a survey team member.
Precursors are any raw materials that can be used to create nefarious chemicals, explosives or drugs.
The photos, along with any other data the team collected, would then be brought back to the incident commander in order to help them make more informed decisions during the incident.
Resources were wearing thin at another location 10 miles away. Other CSTs had responded to multiple laboratories at a juvenile detention center earlier that morning. As the day wore on, they were running out of survey members to don the hazmat suit and make entry into the crime scene.
The 10th CST was called upon to send two survey members to the detention center to augment the other teams already on site. The two were able to successfully integrate into the incident and provide the support they needed.
All the CSTs combined were able to look at nine makeshift labs during the exercise and all of them were accurately assessed.