From patrolling Super Bowls, presidential inaugurations and PGA Championship tournaments to assisting local authorities respond to a ricin manufacturing lab at an Oshkosh, Wisconsin home, the Wisconsin National Guard’s 54th Civil Support Team has demonstrated its homeland security value over the past 10 years.
A recent formal military dinner at Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin allowed the weapons of mass destruction response team to reflect on its origins and its future.
“You certainly have a legacy of winners building winners, even in your short history,” Brig. Gen. Greg Haase, the National Guard Bureau’s deputy director of domestic operations and force development, said at the dinner, invoking legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi. “Be proud — you have a lot to look forward to.”
The first civil support teams were fielded in 1998 to protect against the growing threat of chemical and biological terrorism. Wisconsin’s 54th Civil Support Team began in 2000 as a part-time unit, without the specialized equipment required to capably mount an effective response. The Defense Department announced in March 2004 that Wisconsin would establish a full-time civil support team, consisting of 22 Soldiers and Airmen. The team began training in 2005 and completed its rigorous certification in February 2006.
Haase described civil support teams as the vanguard, or leading edge, of CBRN — chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear — response efforts in the United States.
“You’re so specialized,” he said. “You have scientists with you, medical folks with you, people that know how to do [contamination] modeling — all those unique elements make this team something special. You work together every day, and support each other in some of the harshest environments imaginable.”
Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Sosa, the team’s first sergeant, explained that the 54th Civil Support Team does not replace hazardous material teams, but rather enhances them “with highly trained and professional Soldiers and Airmen, using proven tactics and the most up-to-date technologies.”
Lt. Col. Eric Leckel, 54th Civil Support Team commander, added that his team delivers a product to local first responders as well as a strategic service to the state and nation.
“This is the ability to work with the hazardous materials professionals throughout the entire state to continue to develop and maintain a breadth of capability in order to grow response capacity,” Leckel said. “These strategic partnerships are displayed during every response when the 54th already knows the names of the local, regional, state and federal agencies who are already on site when we arrive.”
“The 54th CST is a unique asset for the state of Wisconsin with its response posture and capabilities,” Sosa continued, adding that the full-time team is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Last year, the 54th CST took part in 11 no-notice response missions, 41 standby missions, 15 unit-level exercises and 23 additional training events. The team has reached out to local first responders and hazardous material teams to educate them on what the 54th CST can offer to assist them.
“These are the people out there making a difference, saving lives and protecting people day in and day out,” Haase said, noting that civil support teams provide an excellent example to the active duty component of the National Guard’s capabilities and contributions. “Whether it’s at national security events, football games, Republican National Conventions, you are there.”
Haase praised the 54th Civil Support Team on its recent evaluation, and encouraged the team to become innovative in how it responds to chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incidents.
“How do we combat that badness with your goodness?” he asked. “How do we make what’s wrong, right? If we’re not able to, how do we minimize it?”