New York Guard team catches unusual ride to work for Vigilant Guard exercise

By Capt. Jean Marie Kratzer New York National Guard


A 5 a.m. commute in a 50,000 pound Army helicopter isn't a normal morning commute for most people, but for the National Guard members of the 2nd Civil Support Team—military personnel specially trained to find chemical, biological, and radiological weapons—it's just another day in the office.

Twelve members of the New York team linked up with a New York Army National Guard CH-47 flown by Soldiers of Company B, 3rd Battalion 126th Aviation from Rochester for a ride to work on July 27th. The team would participate in an emergency response exercise in nearby Vermont.

The combined training satisfied an annual requirement for the members of the Civil Support Team, known as a CST, to practice deployment via helicopter. The Rochester aviators, part of the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade, also practiced one of their routine aircrew missions: deploying the CST from Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia.

"It was a great opportunity for us to provide the 2nd Civil Support Team with unique CH-47F aviation assets," said Maj. Eric Fritz, a Webster, New York, resident and one of the CH-47 pilots for the flight. "This also gave us an opportunity to develop a team relationship and understanding of how we can assist in their mission.""

The CST was participating in a Vigilant Guard disaster response exercise hosted by the Vermont National Guard. The national-level exercise in Burlington required New York's 2nd CST to provide support to fellow CST teams from Maine and Vermont. The exercise, involving both National Guard forces and Vermont first responders, simulated scenarios requiring urban search and rescue, cyber-terror defense, a viral outbreak and bio-chemical terrorism."

The scenario required the New Yorkers to check for the presence of contaminants at the Burlington Air National Guard Base as other CST elements focused on other events.

After the hour flight, the team arrived in Burlington with the sunrise. After initial coordination with an incident commander, two CST members suited up in their hazardous material (HAZMAT) protective suits while other Soldiers and Airmen provided decontamination and medical support."

The CST trains to assist first responders with identifying agents and substances, assessing current and projected consequences and advising civilian incident commanders on response measures.

By late morning, the team had established a decontamination site and a two-person team went inside a vacant building to search for suspected hazardous materials, working together to clear each room inside the building.

The team trains constantly and we have to be prepared for many different scenarios, explained Army National Guard Maj. Amy Benedetto, deputy team commander and Schenectady resident. "The strong bond and trust our team has towards one another allows us to accomplish our missions successfully," she said."

"I have been a part of the CST for over nine years and it is so important for us to be experts at our jobs for when we go down range," said Air National Guard Master Sgt. Brian Gifford, of Altamont.

Adding to the heat of the summer day in July, the temperature inside the CST HAZMAT suits reached more than one hundred degrees by the time the team cleared all the rooms."

"If the Soldiers are not 100 percent healthy, not only is their health in jeopardy but also the mission," said Air National Guard Maj. Philip Smith, physician assistant for the CST and resident of East Nassau. "Each Soldier will get a physical to monitor their vitals; these Soldiers must be in great health to wear over 40-pound chemical suits.""

"Every team has a graded evaluation we must participate in every 18 months, so it pushes us to train hard all year long and take every mission seriously," Smith said.

Less than six hours from their arrival, the team provided an all-clear assessment to the incident commander, completing their task and successfully redeploying back to Scotia in the early afternoon.

The 2nd CST is one of two Civil Support Teams in the New York National Guard. New York also maintains the 24th CST, based at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, and focuses its operations in the New York City metropolitan area. The two teams, manned by full-time National Guard members, are prepared to deploy throughout New York or the northeast as required.