NEWS | Dec. 15, 2020

Civil Support Teams Lead the Way

By Sgt. Cameron McCown Missouri National Guard

Imagine you’re watching a movie in which police officers chase a suspect into a building. They clear one room after another, ensuring nobody threatens them while they apprehend the fugitive. A small chemical lab is in one room they enter, and it could explode if touched, the effect of which could be devastating.
This isn’t just a movie in many cities and towns across America. It’s realty. When law enforcement encounters this scenario, they often call the full-time Civil Support Team of the U.S. Army National Guard.
“We support first responders, fire fighters, FBI and homeland security in efforts to discover what a chemical or biological agent is and how to react to it,” said Sgt. Matt Giddens of the 53rd WMD Civil Support Team (CST). “It’s a public safety that really works quickly to determine if a chemical is a threat and to do so using mobile equipment.”
The 53rd WMD CST is among 57 National Guard units nationwide who deploy regularly to support law enforcement during this critical and dangerous situation. The National Guard is the only U.S. Army component, which offers CSTs, and at least one team is available in every state.
“We never take over an investigation but work in tandem with civil authorities to provide information and assessments so they can make decisions,” said Maj. Lance Woodard of the 2nd CST. He added, “Public events, chemical spills, natural disasters in which chemical plants are harmed, drug labs…these are all areas that we respond to regularly.”
Civil Support Teams have been in existence since 2003, when then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld created them in response to domestic terror attacks as part of the Global War on Terror. There is one in every U.S. state, as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Germany, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands with an additional team in California, Florida and New York.
In 2020, the Missouri CST began responding in support of Covid-19 relief, administering tests to individuals at testing sites, according to Staff Sgt. Justin Doherty of the 7th CST. Each team has multiple medical personnel, as well as a Science Officer and other professionals trained in chemical, nuclear, and biological testing. Initial training takes place over hundreds of days, and Lt. Colonel Ash said each Soldier is ideally a part of the team for a minimum of three years.
“There is a sense of teamwork and purpose,” he said, “and Soldiers in the unit train together, deploy together, and use their relationships with each other to make the unit stronger and make the Army stronger.”
As the Army National Guard leads the way into the future, Civil Support Teams are on the front lines stateside to ensure the safety and security of the American public. These Soldiers are another way the U.S. Army works every day to protect and defend America from all threats, both foreign and domestic.