The Michigan National Guard’s 51st Weapons of Mass Destruction, Civil Support Team, based in Fort Custer Training Center in Battle Creek, Mich., conducted a training exercise the first week in November with Michigan upper peninsula civil authorities from Mackinac Island and St. Ignace sheriff, emergency 911 personnel, and medical professionals.
The exercise began on the mainland in St. Ignace until Thursday when the scenario called for movement of a nine-person team to travel to Mackinac Island, five miles off shore. The team was scheduled for airlift with MING aviators from Detachment 1, Company B, 3-238th General Support Aviation Battalion based at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Harrison Township, Mich., but poor visibility forced them to improvise their plan. The only other transportation to the island is by ferryboat, which logistically turned out to be a great asset.
“In emergency events, there has to be a backup plan,” said 51st CST commander, Maj. Mark Sitterly. “The ferryboat was planned for and we seamlessly adjusted to this mode of transportation. Fortunately, there was a scheduled ferry that fit our exercise timeline.”
The ferry landed the team just blocks from where the incident commander, a local decontamination team and Mackinac Island fire department members were already in place. In training, as well as in a real event, the MING CST is designed to support local and state authorities. The decontamination team from the island received their decon-equipment last month, and the exercise provided their team the opportunity to train alongside the Michigan Guard members.
The exercise scenario was played out at the Iroquoix Hotel where a hotel worker had succumbed to a chemical agent. The 51st Civil Support Team was called to collect samples, analyze and identify the unknown substance—all while establishing and maintaining an operations center. Evaluators from Army North were on hand to observe the CST response to the scenario.
The 22-member CST organized in 2004, and is trained to respond to suspected or actual chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive incidents at numerous public sites statewide. Since its creation, the team has deployed to more than 15 confirmed or suspected events across Michigan. They have also been on stand-by during high profile events such as presidential visits to Michigan, the presidential memorial and repose ceremony for Gerald R. Ford, and the 2006 National Football League Superbowl game played in Detroit.
Every 18 months, the CST must undergo an in-depth evaluation to retain their certification. Exercises such as this help the team enhance their capabilities and prepare for the next team evaluation scheduled in February 2015.
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By Master Sgt. Denice Rankin, Joint Force Headquarters, Michigan National Guard Public Affairs Office