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National Guard unit takes lead in weapons of mass destruction prevention

Guarding against the worst in Washington state

Sgt. 1st Class David Willey, a member of the Washington Army National Guard's 10th Civil Support Team, Weapons of Mass Destruction, watches as area first responders test samples for phosgene gas. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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Haley Gregersen climbed into a light blue, plastic hazardous materials suit and waited for the first causalities to arrive.

"The training out here has been really good," the young fire fighter from Eatonville said. "The experience I've gained has been well worth the time and effort."

Gregersen had joined about 75 other first responders in a two day, annual training scenario hosted by the 10th Civil Support Team (CST), weapons of mass destruction last week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

A part of the Washington National Guard, the 10th CST identifies and assesses suspected weapons of mass destruction hazards, advises civilian responders on appropriate actions through on-site testing, and facilitates the arrival of additional state and federal agencies.

The highly trained 22-member team can successfully cope with chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosives threats.

"This team can deploy in three hours to any point in the state," Lt. Col. Scott Humphrey, the 10th CST's commander, said as we walked through Leschi Town, a major training complex at JBLM.

"We've got the best 17 Army National Guard and five Air National Guard personnel working full time to keep the state safe."

>>> During a raid on a simulated chemistry lab, members of the 10th Civil Support Team and area first responders found phosgene gas, a highly toxic agent. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

Most recently, the team deployed to Spokane to investigate the discovery of several letters that preliminarily tested positive for ricin, a highly toxic substance with no known antidote.

The scenario facing the 10th CST and local first responders at Leschi Town began in Bellingham.

A terrorist organization had released toxic gas in a Bellingham shopping mall.  When first responders arrived, they were met with improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

"The attack occurred during peak business hours," Humphrey explained.  "The point was to inflict as much damage and death as possible."

In processing the Bellingham scene, investigators found evidence that the toxic agent - phosgene gas, a deadly choking agent - had been manufactured in the Leschi Town area.

Local fire and law enforcement agencies immediately gathered at the site, set up a command and control center and began to conduct a thorough search in order to find the laboratory used to make the toxin.

"We found the lab and were able to begin running tests on the contents we took out," explained Kent Garrison, the assistant chief of special operations to the JBLM Fire Department.

"The key here is that different agencies meet here in this training scenario than when it's a real situation."

Moments later, Gregersen began preparing to work at a decontamination station.

"We will hose, scrub, strip and hose again those coming through here - this training is as real as it can get," Toby Bennett, JBLM Fire Department, said.

"The coordination with the Guard and their 10th CST has been really good.  They know their stuff."

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