Fort McCoy News October 24, 2014

Wisconsin civil support team works to build skills

STORY & PHOTOS BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

More than 20 members of Wisconsin's 54th Civil Support Team (CST) trained at Fort McCoy for four days in early October to sharpen skills in marksmanship, land navigation and Warrior Tasks.

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Members of Wisconsin's 54th Civil Support Team, headquartered in Madison, Wis., participate in 9-millimeter weapons qualification at Range 1 on Fort McCoy's North Post.

The 54th CST, headquartered in Madison, Wis., is staffed by 22 full-time Army and Air Force National Guard personnel in 14 military specialties, according to the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs (WDMA). The team regularly trains at Fort McCoy as well as with other agencies across Wisconsin.

"We do most of our training with some sort of local entity, whether it be your small-town fire department or the FBI SWAT team," said Army Staff Sgt. Ken Prieur, training noncommissioned officer (NCO) for the 54th CST. For honing team skills, Fort McCoy is one of the team's primary training sites, he said.

Operations Officer Capt. Seth Kaste, an Army officer who also has 14 years of Air Force experience, said Fort McCoy's training opportunities are "crucial."

"We come up here every other month or at least once a quarter," Kaste said. "Fort McCoy provides us with opportunities to get the training we really need that we can't find anywhere else in the state, or sometimes even in the country.

"Some of the ranges (at Fort McCoy) are suitable for domestic operations training exercises we have with local, state and even federal agencies," Kaste said. "To be able to drive within two to three hours from home station, and to be able to have facilities like this, is crucial to our mission and is greatly beneficial."

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A 54th Civil Support Team member aims at pop-up targets during 9-millimeter weapons-qualification firing.

The 54th CST supports local and state authorities at domestic weapons of mass destruction and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incident sites by identifying agents and substances, assessing current and projected consequences, advising on response measures and assisting with requests for additional military support.
Prieur described the team's unique capability.

"One of our vehicles is an analytical laboratory system — sort of like a crime scene investigation unit on wheels," Prieur said. "We could be called in by some entity where they may have something they don't know what it is. We have the ability to go down there, grab it, along with any other intelligence, bring it out of the hot zone, and test it. We can then complete a presumptive analysis (of the material)."

While the presumptive analysis may not give a 100 percent evaluation of a mysterious substance at an incident site, it can tell authorities "with a whole lot of surety" what they might be dealing with in an incident situation, Prieur said.

"We'll bring these samples out of the hot zone all packaged up, and then we can run all types of tests to determine a result," Prieur said. "These tests can include DNA rebuilding, which can determine if something is, for example, a biological agent."

In addition to supporting an event anywhere in Wisconsin, the 54th CST can support agencies in neighboring states such as Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa through mutual aid agreements.

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The 54th Civil Support Team is a mix of Air Force and Army service members. As part of their weapons certification, they must also qualify while wearing a gas mask.

"We can support events in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, for example, because we're closer than the Michigan CST, which is in Southern Michigan," Prieur said.

Prieur said the best part of the team, in addition to their wide range of capabilities, is its ability to support any community or agency without adding any additional cost.

"A team like (ours) brings so much capability to the local agencies that they don't normally have," Prieur said. The 54th CST is on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

"And, our team comes free of charge to those agencies. So no matter what entity calls us in, like that small-town fire department that couldn't afford to have experts come in and assist them, we're just a phone call away and we're not going to present them with a giant bill to pay."

And through every visit to Fort McCoy for training, Kaste said the installation workforce helps the team maintain their readiness.

"We get a lot of great support from the Fort McCoy personnel," Kaste said. "Working with the post's support services as well as the Wisconsin Military Academy always provides us with great resources and the ability to get away from home station and accomplish some great training."

In 1998, President Bill Clinton announced that the nation would do more to protect its citizens against the growing threat of chemical and biological terrorism, according to WDMA. As part of this effort the Department of Defense (DOD) formed teams like the 54th CST to support state and local authorities in the event of an incident involving weapons of mass destruction. The 54th was certified operational by the DOD in February 2006 and undergoes recertification every 18 months.

For more information about the 54th CST, visit the WDMA website at http://dma.wi.gov/dma/jfhq/CST/faq.asp.