Editor’s note: The Wisconsin National Guard’s 54th Civil Support Team will conduct a training exercise at Middleton Community Church Tuesday, Oct. 20, and at Sun Prairie High School Thursday, Oct. 22. The 54th Civil Support Team will be unable to accommodate media at either site, because the exercise serves as an external evaluation and certification of the unit’s readiness. Questions can be directed to the Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Office.
MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin National Guard’s 54th Civil Support Team (CST) will conduct an exercise at two different sites this week in Dane County.
Made up of 22 Citizen Soldiers and Airmen, the 54th CST will conduct training at Middleton Community Church Tuesday, October 20, and at Sun Prairie High School Thursday, October 22. The public should not be alarmed by the team’s presence at either training site and can expect to see military vehicles in and around the area.
The 54th CST is Wisconsin’s full-time response team for emergencies or terrorist events involving weapons of mass destruction or toxic industrial chemicals. The unit assists local first responders by providing medical and technical advice, assisting in the detection assessment process, and serves as a liaison should additional military resources be called in. The team’s personnel are on a short-notice recall 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
The team conducts regular training exercises with different first responders and in communities across Wisconsin. The CST trained last month in Wausau in preparation for this month’s evaluated collective training exercise.
In that training scenario, the CST responded to a request for assistance from the Wausau Fire Department after employees at a local chemical facility complained of symptoms consistent with a chemical exposure. In the exercise, the Wausau Fire Department called on their local hazardous materials team and the CST to help identify the substance.
Enter the CST, which has a mobile lab and can deploy survey teams to assess the situation, conduct air monitoring, and more.
Regular assessments, evaluations and exercises help the unit build readiness in the event they’re needed in a real-world response. The unit uses external evaluators from Army North to assist in training facilitation and ultimately to certify the unit’s proficiency.
“Them coming in and planning the exercise and executing it – because we can do sort of the same stuff by ourselves – but having that third party come in so that we don’t know anything (about the scenario) and we get to utilize everybody on the team is very beneficial for us,” Lt. Col. Matthew Kelly said during the exercise in Wausau in September. “And obviously since they’re the ones that are going to be grading us and giving us our evaluation next month, it’s good to have the evaluators looking at you and giving you some sustains and improves.”
In the scenario in Wausau, the Wausau Fire Department acted as the incident commander. One of the greatest benefits of regular training with first responders in different Wisconsin communities is the relationship-building it fosters, Kelly said.
Those relationships help ensure that first responders understand the CST’s capabilities, situations in which their services could be helpful to a community, and more.
“We just emphasize that we’re here to support them and help them with anything they may need,” he said. “Working with the local first responders is part of building those relationships.”
As the unit’s commander, Kelly said he is blown away by the professionalism of the men and women who make up the 54th CST.
“They’re professionals and people of high skill and ability, high internal drive and motivation, because you have to be to be able to do the stuff that we do,” he said. “The willingness to be on call 24/7 is quite a sacrifice for them and their families.
“Fortunately we get people who are very passionate about doing this job and working with first responders and just wanting to be so interactive with the local community and almost always doing your mission,” he added.
One of those Soldiers is Capt. Margaret Drouet, the unit’s medical operations officer.
Drouet explained that her team receives specialized medical training that normal military units would not receive including conducting treatment in chemical, biological, radiological environments.
She’s spent nearly four years of her 14-year career on the team after undergoing a vast amount of training to be a part of the CST. It’s all worth it, she said, if it means they make a difference in the community.
“It can be long days,” she said. “It can be cold, it can be hot, but knowing that at the end of the day, I get to leave and we mitigated a threat and saved people, saved infrastructure, or made it to where people feel safe, and what we’re doing is helping them.”
Sgt. 1st Class Ashley Granum, a logistics noncommissioned officer with the team agreed stating that she’s motivated to serve her family and the place she calls home.
“I enjoy doing what I do full-time to support my community and my state and ultimately my country and then also to care for my daughter and support my family,” she said.
The Madison-based unit will conduct this week’s exercise in Dane County at multiple locations.