Discover what it’s like to be on a Civil Support Team
Civil Support Teams respond to situations involving toxic materials and other public hazards, so they must be ready to be hands-on when everyone else is hands-off. SSG Alex Raber, a 25U Signal Support Systems Specialist with the 82nd CST in South Dakota, describes life in the HAZMAT suits.
One of the first courses we attend is CSSC (Civil Support Skills Course). It’s about two months long, and we earn our hazmat (hazardous materials) awareness, operations and technician training, also learning different types of equipment. Everyone in the CST is required to take the course, which is basically a crash-course on most of the equipment for identifying chemicals and different hazardous materials.
Our role is to be able to walk into a situation and deal with any kinds of chemicals or materials. We must be able to identify the chemicals and know how to approach them. It’s all about standing back as far as you can, realizing what the threat is, and then being able to know how close you can get [to the materials] and what tools you need to mitigate the issue.
We work directly with local fire departments, police, hazmat teams and medical services. That’s our primary mission. We’re there to assist the civilian authorities. When we show up to an incident, we don’t take over. We’re there to facilitate them and help them out in any way that they need.
If an incident were to happen, our state would request the CST through all the proper military channels. They would notify our commander, and we would report to the CST building. At that point, we would deploy the team out either as a whole unit or different sections, depending on what we’re dealing with.
We would deploy to the site of the incident and establish our footprint, which is in the cold zone—near the site, but far enough away from possible contamination. Next, we would set up our decontamination line and our operations center. At that point, we would start getting in our suits, go downrange and begin to survey the area for any chemicals or materials.
[When dealing] with radiation, we use our radiation monitors to get close enough to the radiation source to identify it. We have specialized equipment that’s able to identify the radiation source from a distance. You can only get so close to it depending on the energy that it puts off. The devices are handheld and have a display and a cord with different types of probes on it to pick up different types of radiation. It gives you readings of what the radiation is emitting.
During a normal workweek, we report for PT in the morning first thing. We’re allotted time for PT because being in the hazmat suit is pretty strenuous, and we pack a lot of equipment. We have a lot of specialized equipment in the unit, so maintenance of it can take hours, troubleshooting and ensuring everything’s working correctly.
I work with another Soldier in the Unified Command Suite (UCS). We use it to make sure all the radio systems are up and working properly, and it’s able to provide data and the Internet for everybody within the truck’s footprint. The UCS is small, dark and kind of noisy. In the back of the vehicle, we have all our radios used to support our team and a computer server.
Being in communications, we have to keep up with technology. Technologies are always changing, so we have to stay current with the latest communications equipment.
Story and photo courtesy of GX magazine. GX magazine is an official publication of the Army National Guard.