MADISON, Wis. — The 54th Civil Support Team (CST) — a specialized Wisconsin National Guard unit that assists civil authorities concerning chemical, biological or radiological matters — bid farewell to Lt. Col. Eric Leckel and welcomed aboard Maj. Joseph Davison during a formal change of command ceremony Dec. 1 at the Armed Forces Reserve Center.
The 22-member unit — Soldiers and Airmen — punches above its weight in expertise, making it a valued and trusted partner with state, local and federal public safety agencies. This was evident by representatives from some of those agencies — the FBI, Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, the Milwaukee Police Hazardous Device Unit, Janesville Fire Department and Rock County Hazardous Materials Response Team — who attended the change of command ceremony.
Col. Dennis Konkel, commander of the 64th Troop Command — the parent unit for the 54th CST — highlighted how unusual it was for such a small unit to be led by a lieutenant colonel.
“My first platoon was 45 Soldiers,” Konkel said, before explaining that the 54th CST’s mission and scope justified such a high-ranking commander.
The 54th CST supports local and state authorities at domestic incident sites involving weapons of mass destruction or chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive agents by identifying such agents and substances, assessing consequences, advising how best to respond and assisting with any requests for additional military support. The unit members represent 14 different military specialties — including hazardous materials modeler, physician assistant, nuclear medicine science officer, satellite communications specialist and weapons of mass destruction survey. In addition to individual skill sets, each team member is an International Fire Service Accreditation Congress certified hazardous materials technician.
Leckel explained some of the unit’s obligations.
“There is no other unit in the state that has a one-hour recall, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are very few active duty units that do that. Our members miss multiple family dinners, birthday parties and other engagements to serve others.”
In addition to responding to incidents, the 54th CST proactively monitors large spectator events, such as the recent Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, where the 54th helped plan and resource the response effort for that gathering as well as served as the lead element. The 54th also provides safety and security to the Green Bay Packers during each home game.
Leckel cited former Packers coaching legend Vince Lombardi’s quote, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence,” to explain the 54th CST’s last 44 months. For example, the unit not only passed two Army North evaluations, but exceeded national standards with an overall 98 percent rating.
“Truly phenomenal example of professional competence and dedication to duty throughout the formation,” Leckel said. “But the culminating event demonstrating excellence was the September 2018 collective lanes training where Army North evaluators stated it was the best CST they have ever evaluated.
“That is excellence,” Leckel continued, “and it is because of you — and I am proud to have been along for the ride.”
For Davison, this command marks a return — he previously served as the 54th CST’s executive officer, and admitted during the change of command ceremony that during his first tenure, which began in 2013, he knew very little about the unit or its mission as the tip of the spear in the Wisconsin National Guard’s mission as the state’s first military responder during times of emergency.
The 54th CST operates under the incident command system structure, meaning when it arrives on scene it receives its objectives and tasks from the requesting civilian incident commander — usually a local fire, law enforcement or public health official. After receiving an alert, the 54th recalls all unit members and deploys a liaison element from its Madison armory within 90 minutes. Two hours after receiving the alert, the rest of the unit moves out to the staging area. Because the 54th CST is federally funded, communities do not pay for the unit’s expenses.
“After serving on the team for two years I left with a newfound appreciation for the professionalism and expertise that the Wisconsin civil support team possesses,” Davison said. “Having the honor to return as the commander of this outstanding unit is one of the best opportunities I could ask for. Any officer would be hard-pressed to find a more rewarding and impactful leadership position.”
Davison thanked Leckel for his leadership, and predicted the 54th CST would “find new ways to innovate and further improve the capabilities we provide for our state and nation.
“I am humbled and honored to command some of the finest Soldiers and Airmen in the Wisconsin National Guard,” Davison said.