December 28, 2015 – ST. CROIX, Virgin Islands – Unknown chemicals were released at various points around the territory; many residents in the communities are affected. Strike/Survey teams from the 23rd Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team (CST), Virgin Islands National Guard, along with the 48th CST out of Florida and an FBI support team have been activated to investigate the incidents.
That was the scenario for Operation Guardian Spear, an inter-operability exercise that tested how both CSTs and the FBI team worked together to protect the citizens on the Virgin Islands throughout the first week of December. “This is a 36-hour straight exercise that tests the response by federal, state, and local resources in the event of an identified incident,” said 1st Lt. Marcus Sydney, 23rd CST operations officer.
The survey teams were deployed to collect samples, from various points on St. Croix, HOVENSA [Hess Corp. and Petroleos de Venezuela SA], Buck Island, 210th Regional Training Institute and the Henry Rohlsen Airport, which were determined to be viruses, manufactured drugs and biological weapons.
“Prior to this the FBI just came in as the incident commander, this time they’re building all the labs, they’re helping write the exercise, they’re engaging us with all the support”, said Sgt. 1st Class Anibal Bermudez, first sergeant of the 23rd CST. “They’ve brought the fake IEDs [improvised explosive devices], bombs and props. They’ve brought a lot of realism to the exercise. “On the FBI side they test the ability to change over coordinators during the cycle,” Bermudez added. According to Bermudez, to assist the CSTs, the FBI brought in a bomb technician as they would in the real world.
While the unit conducts evaluations continuously throughout the year in order to maintain competency, this exercise was an assessment on inter-agency communications and inter-operability capacity. “We’re more testing how we work with each other,” Sydney explained. “It’s not an evaluation per se, just an assessment of how we work together.”
“This is the first time it’s being done on such a scale with two CSTs working with the HMRU [FBI Hazardous Materials Response Unit ] personnel from the lab and our WMD[Weapons of Mass Destruction] coordinators both on island and Sector III, Florida,” he said.
“What’s going to be done is we’re basically going to take our notes to utilize on future real world events. How could we improve on our response? How could we improve on our inter-operability? From there, we could come up with a plan on how we could assist each other when the flag goes up.”
Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams were established to deploy rapidly to assist a local incident commander in determining the nature and extent of an attack or incident, provide expert technical advice on WMD response operations and help identify and support the arrival of follow-on state and federal military response assets. They are joint units and, as such, can consist of both Army National Guard and Air National Guard personnel.
The mission of Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams is to support local and state authorities at domestic WMD/nuclear, biological, chemical incident sites by identifying agents and substances, assessing current and projected consequences, advising on response measures, and assisting with requests for additional military support.