US Army North evaluates 773rd CST’s capabilities

by Staff Sgt. John Gribble
7th CSC Public Affairs

Although a fictitious scenario, imagine this as a possible event:

Early one morning a personnel holding area in Kaiserslautern is evacuated after several Soldiers become ill, exhibiting difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea and weakness. Emergency medical service transport all the casualties to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Due to the number of casualties from an unknown origin, officials are concerned with a possible chemical, biological, radioactive or nuclear hazard.

There is a team that has the training and resources to discover the answers to what has happened. A team that is based here in Germany and that, within a short time frame, can deploy to the site with all of the proper equipment and a mobile laboratory. That team is the 773rd Civil Support Team, 7th Civil Support Command.

The incident above is one of many scenarios the 773rd CST was evaluated on from Dec. 6 to 15 to receive their validation as a CST. The 773rd CST is now the first, and only, CST in Europe.

The unit’s mission is to enter a suspected contaminated area and find out if there is actual contamination and what it might be. The unit can advise how the substance may spread and what the best response might be in case it does spread.

In an actual situation, the 773rd CST can be deployed to support civilian and federal agencies. Under the Incident Command System, the team would report to and work for the incident commander on scene.

The 773rd CST is designed to operate as a self-sufficient entity for short durations. If involved in a large scale operation, the CST must be resupplied with critical supplies and life support, allowing them to focus on their primary mission, defining the details of what and how the community may be affected.

The CST program was initiated in 1998 in response to federal legislation designed to help prepare the U.S. for possible terrorist attacks that could involve the use of weapons of mass destruction. Since that time, the CST program has grown such that there is a team in every state across the nation, thus providing local support for all possible situations from terrorist attacks to industrial accidents. With a highly trained staff and state of the art capabilities, the team stands ready to respond here in Europe.

“It’s a big area as opposed to stateside teams that have more concentrated areas of responsibility,” said Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Anderson, the CBRN reconnaissance noncommissioned officer for the 773rd CST.

Sergeant Anderson trains the survey team members and assists in command and control when the team is on a mission.

The 773rd CST has been training for this evaluation since it was first formed in September 2009. In addition to training together, unit members also had to complete demanding service schools at various military bases in order to be certified for their specialties.

During the 773rd CST’s validation, the evaluators from U.S. Army North evaluated the team in all critical areas from communications and decontamination to medical knowledge.

“We are an external agency the commander can use as a resource to train his folks collectively,” said John Nonemaker, the deputy director for civil support training activity, ARNORTH, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. “We are here to set conditions for the team to train and then test out.

“We are proving that the team can go out, make an assessment and provide advice to an incident commander,” Mr. Nonemaker said. “They go grab samples, come back with a 90 percent or better surety of what they are dealing with on a biological, chemical or radiological hazard.”

The 773rd CST is unique in that it is the first U.S. Army Reserve CST and the first to be stationed off U.S. soil with a responsibility to cover the European community.

“It is a unique opportunity being the first group to set up in Europe; we can hold a lot of pride in that,” Sergeant Anderson said.

There is a shrill beeping as the three-man survey team returns to the command post. They have timed it right, arriving at the decontamination station as one of the team member’s air is running low. Throughout the decontamination procedure a sealed container never leaves a team member’s hand. This is the sample that was taken, the sample that the mobile lab has been waiting on, the sample that might tell us what has occurred.