WASHINGTON, D.C. —
On the morning of the State of the Union Address, onlookers stare as a police-led motorcade of government issue trucks, pulling large unmarked trailers, passes through downtown Washington, D.C. “It must be the CIA, FBI or something,” they think to themselves, never guessing that the caravan is made up of nearly 100 Soldiers and Airmen from the West Virginia National Guard’s 35th Civil Support Team (CST) Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and 35th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosives (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP).
The 35th CERFP and CST are two highly-trained units which are strategically positioned to respond quickly and effectively either independently or in conjunction with the D.C. Fire and Emergency Services - Homeland Defense Division, U.S. Capitol Police, other military CST and CERFP units, as well as other local and federal agencies. They have supported the annual SOTUA since 2009.
The 35th CERFP is comprised of four elements staffed by personnel from already established National Guard units: search and extraction, decontamination, medical, and command and control.
The 35th CST’s role is to respond to a CBRNE incident site with identification and assessment of hazards, advice to civil authorities, and facilitating the arrival of follow-on military forces during emergencies and incidents.
The 130th Airlift Wing provided 30 Airmen as a part of their 130th Medical Group, Detachment 1. These Airmen, ranging from medics and support personnel to nurse practitioners and physicians, specialize in areas such as assessment, search and extraction, critical lifesaving care, and more. Additionally, the 130th Communications Flight provided three Airmen to work the Joint Incident Site Communications Capability (JISCC), which bridges communications systems delivering high-quality communications anywhere in the world.
“Sometimes you don’t always feel like you’re part of something bigger until you come to support something like this,” said Senior Airman Kristian Anderson, an Aerospace Medical Technician assigned to the 35th CERFP. “Being here with all of these other units from across the nation and watching all the puzzle pieces of the mission come together, and seeing the huge role that our small CERFP team from West Virginia brings, is amazing to be a part of.”
The West Virginia Army National Guard provided 66 Soldiers specializing in decontamination, search and extraction, and command and control areas of responsibility to make up the remainder of the CERFP element. In a disaster, their primary role is extracting potential victims in conjunction with other civilian and federal agencies, and taking them to their decontamination system, where the victims would be cleaned off all CBRNE contaminants before receiving medical treatment.
“This is one of those exceptional missions,” said West Virginia Army National Guard Sgt. Branden Blend, a member of the Search and Extraction Team. “To be here and to be in support of something this high-profile is very rewarding and critical to keep the teams up to speed in terms of readiness.”
The two units touched ground in D.C. a few days before the event. The Airmen and Soldiers traveled to Joint-Base Anacostia-Bolling to run through a rehearsal of possible scenarios they may face if an incident would occur. Afterwards, the participants received vaccinations, gas mask fitting tests, and general health screenings to ensure top-level readiness and effectiveness.
For the SOTUA, the Guard teams and federal agencies also debuted the National Guard CBRNE Incident Management System (NGSIMS) for the first time in a real-world event. NGSIMS allowed the 35th to contribute and utilize a high-speed common operating picture with other supporting Guard units, the U.S. Marine Corps, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other federal agencies, while simultaneously fitting the bills for cybersecurity and increasing effectiveness.
The agencies that the 35th CST and CERFP supported also spoke on the significance of the mission and importance of the skills the WVNG brings.
“When we reach out to our partners with the capabilities to support us, it seems like the 35th simply fits the bill every single time,” explained Derron Hawkins, the Deputy Chief of D.C. Fire and Emergency Services, Homeland Security Division. “They play a very critical role in how we can respond in events like this; our goal is to integrate them into the plans for these things.”