Handling the HAZMATs

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.

SSG Alex Raber in HAZMAT gearOne 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.

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Ride the Wave of Job Opportunity

In looking back at On Your Guard in 2012, there were quite a few stories that proved popular or that we feel especially indicative of the rewards of service. So, in the spirit of ‘everything old is new again,’ we will occasionally republish these stories throughout 2013 for the benefit of our new readers.

Three Civilian Growth Opportunities Available through the National Guard

Deciding on a career is a lot like surfing. Think of the waves as occupations. Some are good for you, other waves … not so much. As the surfer, you float in the ocean of possibilities, looking and waiting for the right wave to come along. When it does, you want to be trained and ready to ride it. If you hit it too soon or too late, you could end up in one of those epic fail videos. But hit the wave just right and you can ride it all the way to shore.

Here are a few fields that the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to make bigger than average waves during the next few years. The National Guard can help you prepare to ride these waves as far as you can.

  1. Turn Care into a Career – Believe it or nThree National Guard Soldiers in the medical field ot, care is at the core of what we do in the National Guard. We care about our country, our states, our communities, and people. And the Guard provides training in an array of care-based careers in the medical field. Together with the education benefits available in the Guard, you could prepare for a civilian job as a personal care provider (an area adding 607,000 jobs by 2020), home health aide (adding 706,300 jobs by 2020), dental specialist (adding 68,500 dental hygienists by 2020), medical secretary (adding 210,000 positions by 2020), mental health counselor (adding 43,600 jobs by 2020), and physical therapists (adding 77,400 jobs by 2020). Ask a Guard Recruiter about opportunities for you in the medical field.
  2. Make a Trade – There are all kinds of trades in the National Guard … like masonry, carpentry, rebar workers, plumbing, steamfitting, pipe layers, and more. These trades, depending on specialty, are expected to add 36-60 percent to their ranks during this century’s second decade. Ask about occupational specialties in the Guard’s engineering specialties, and learn a trade that will last you a lifetime.
  3. Do You Speak Another Language? – Fluency in a language other than English could be quite a boon for anyone who can accurately translate and interpret select foreign languages. Companies doing business overseas and government agencies are looking to add as many as 25,000 interpreters and translators, a 42 percent increase, to their ranks by 2020. If you are fluent or close to fluent in a foreign language, get your conversation started in the Guard. These positions might even come with a cash bonus if you qualify. Ask your Recruiter about MOS 09L: Interpreter/Translator, and 35P: Cryptologic Linguist.

When reviewing your long-term career options, it’s always a good idea to understand the ebb and flow of the job market. Catch the big waves, and you can set yourself up for a long time to come. And best of all, the National Guard can help you prepare to ride them with specialized training and strategic use of your education benefits. Check out all of the opportunities available through the National Guard jobs board.

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Angels On Call

From the jungles of Southeast Asia to the dunes of Afghanistan, medical evacuation aircraft have always been a sign of hope and rescue, even in the darkest hours of combat. Sergeant Cassandra Kennedy, a 68W with the Massachusetts National Guard who spent a yearlong tour in Iraq last year, reveals the specialized training – split-second actions – it takes to succeed as a flight combat medic.

SGT Cassandra Kennedy, Army National Guard[The medical field is] a different realm of the military. You think of the power, might, and strength of the military, but I get to be on the other side of things and help people – keeping my Soldiers safe and healthy.

In the flight medic program, we train in flight simulators. It’s kind of the shell of an aircraft, and it’s set up with a ‘SimMan’ – a mannequin-like machine that can breathe and bleed. You can monitor its heart rate. We run through simulations of the things we would see overseas and what we would have to deal with in the back of an aircraft. It’s basically like working on a patient in the back of a large SUV.

Once you get back to your unit from training, you focus on flying with the crew and working on your crew coordination. Flight medics are all full members of the flight crew. We have to be qualified to do just as much as a crew chief.

When we’re called in for a medevac (medical evacuation), the seriousness of the injury is pretty substantial. In the back of an aircraft, it’s just you. It’s not like a civilian ambulance where you call in to the hospital and talk to a doctor. We have to know what to do by ourselves.

In Iraq, we had operations ready to go 24 hours. In addition to [U.S. troops], we were transporting civil Soldiers, contractors, intercountry nationals that were working from different bases, and a few Iraqi military.

A medevac request comes in on our radios, and we have to be off the ground within 15 minutes – that’s from getting the call, running to the aircraft, and taking off. While we were deployed, our average time company-wide was seven minutes. You drop whatever you’re doing, and you run.

In the air, we’ll coordinate with the medics on the ground and make sure everybody’s ready. We’ll try to land in a base area, but if we couldn’t do that we would land wherever the injury was. Once we land, we want to get the injured people into the aircraft and get them where they need to be as quickly as possible.

The patient would be ready for us – lined up in the LZ (landing zone). We’ll get a quick report from the medic on the ground, roll the people in the aircraft, and take off. That process is maybe less than five minutes.

In the aircraft, we’ll do our full head-to-toe assessment; put in an IV if they need it, hook them up to the monitor, provide fluids, apply a tourniquet – lifesaving measures. We’ll make sure there are not more injuries that weren’t reported. We’re also talking to the medical treatment facility to let them know what they need to do to get ready.

Once we’re landing outside the hospital, they already have a team waiting to help us get stationed at the aircraft. We’ll wheel the patient into the ER and give the doctors a quick report of what we did and what we gave, and then they take over.


Story and photo courtesy of GX magazine. GX magazine is an official publication of the Army National Guard.


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