PORT OF PORTLAND, Maine - The soldiers of Maine's 11th Civil Support Team are ready to respond to any threat, training as part of Maine's Vigilant Guard.
Tensions were high on the morning of Nov. 7, when two shipping containers at the Port of Portland were identified as containing an unknown harmful substance. As one of the final exercises of Maine’s weeklong Vigilant Guard emergency preparedness drill, this was one of the more realistic scenarios. Troops from the Maine and New Jersey National Guards were called in to handle the situation.
“This training can be stressful, we train as we fight,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua A. Way, survey team chief for the 11th Civil Support Team - Weapons of Mass Destruction. “We like to train harder than what the real-life would be like so we make it as hard as we possibly can. We come in with our game faces on, get through it, and are prepared for when the real stuff happens.”
The joint-service CST is the military’s subject matter in the field of WMD-type events. Each team is equipped to handle most situations with a mobile lab, communications array, command post, and equipment for hazardous material response and decontamination. With these tools, the team is ready to respond to a number of threats, including chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive dangers.
On Thursday, the 11th CST from Maine and the 21st CST from New Jersey were ready to respond to the simulated threat in Portland. The teams boarded ships from the U.S. Coast Guard and Portland Fire Department to cross the over the channel to where the suspicious containers were located.
“This is going to test our maritime capabilities, our tactical procedures and at an upper level, it will test our communications with other agencies,” said Way.
Staff Sgt. Larry C, Misiaszek, a Maine Air Guardsman and member of the CST explains the process. “We need to do an area monitor, set up a safe zone so that we can decontaminate any individuals that have been contaminated with whatever chemicals we find.”
This training isn’t unusual for the CST. According to Way, Guardsmen who join the unit spend most of their first year at school, learning all the practices and safety procedures involved in the mission, and continue to train after they arrive.
All this training is needed to be prepared to respond to a real-life threat that requires team members to coordinate and respond quickly. In March of 2012, the 11th was called to a real threat.
“We had a case in Fort Kent, a ‘white powder’ incident as we call them,” explains Misiaszek. “It was coordinated really well. We traveled to Bangor and boarded helicopters to fly north.” The team was able to respond to the call within five hours. After securing and transporting the suspicious package to a lab for testing, the “threat” turned out to be corn starch.
Every member of the team contributes in a large way, said Capt. Michael Gary, operations officer of the 11th CST. “It’s a unique thing about this full-time unit, he said. “You get that variety of operational specialties; mechanics, engineers, so that when you get on the road and something breaks, you have guys who know how to fix it. This helps us to drive on with our mission.”
It’s a challenge because they’re a small unit, said Misiaszek. “You’re always learning new stuff, there are new obstacles every day. You never know when you’re going to get a call, so you have to be ready at any moment.”
In just a matter of hours, the teams from Maine and New Jersey neutralized the threats in Portland and boarded the ships to return to their operations center on the other side. Marking the last full day of Maine’s Vigilant Guard exercise, both CST teams return home after the successful mission.
“We’re on call 24/7," said Way. "We’re here to support our country and our state at a moment’s notice.”