Sometimes our “enemy” isn’t an adversary we can see or touch (or shoot). It’s not a person or group of people set on doing us harm. Sometimes our “enemy” is an aggressor we cannot see or fight by normal means. It may be chemical fumes, or radiation, or… a virus.
The United States military has long had a variety of capabilities to fight a wide variety of threats to our safety, security, or way of life. Several of those capabilities exist in what are known as Civil Support Teams (Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams, or WMD-CST, to be more technical). These teams are the states’ and territories’ answer to how to engage CBRN threats.
CBRN — Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear — threats are obviously many and varied, and never ever not serious. So, while these teams live and breathe at the state/territory level, and are populated by Reserve Component Soldiers and Airmen, they are on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These teams are on an “active” status, and their 22 team members are all Active Guard Reserve (AGR).
All of these teams are “owned” by the National Guard, save one: 773rd CST in Kaiserslautern, Germany, is owned by the Army Reserve (and is the only one not in a US state or territory). The other 57 teams are located in each of the 50 states (some have two teams), DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands. California, New York, and Florida all have an additional team.
CSTs are designed to deploy domestically for direct CBRN support to civil authorities, under the Governor’s (or command authority’s) direction. According to National Guard policy (CNGBI 3501.00):
- WMD-CSTs support civil authorities by providing a disciplined, well-trained, and well-equipped organization to supplement local, State, and Federal efforts to manage potential catastrophic events, and provide special technical support to augment specific needs of an Incident Commander (IC).
- WMD-CSTs provide initial assessment of incidents, and advise and assist the IC, State Emergency Management, Joint Force Headquarters-State (JFHQs-State), The Adjutants General (TAG), the Commanding General of the District of Columbia (CG), governors, and other key officials, including representatives of Federal agencies. WMD-CSTs are also an integral part of the chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) Response Enterprise (CRE) and can operate as a component of CRE task forces that may form during a significant event.
The 22 Soldiers and Airmen on these 58 teams, as you can see, have SIGNIFICANT responsibilities. Their ability to deploy immediately to any incident in their area of responsibility is further augmented by their ability to operation continuously for up to 72 hours. At this point, additional CSTs will be alerted. There is a national plan already in place (the Response Management Plan) to guarantee overlap in the event of protracted or multiple incidents.
Knowing that Americans have dedicated teams on-hand, and in their communities to repsond to these kinds of “enemies” in our own backyard, while working seamlessly with other professionals and authorities to limit, control, and solve problems, should help us all breathe at least a little easier.