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Congress Funds Five More WMD Civil Support Teams

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2000 – DoD will use funding from the Fiscal 2001 National Defense Authorization Act to stand up five more reserve component civil support teams.

This will make 32 teams. They specialize in the investigation of chemical, biological or radiological incidents.

The new Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams will join 27 other units based in Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia. California has two WMD teams, to reflect its population size, 10 percent of the nation.

Formerly called rapid assessment and initial detection teams, the teams are part of America’s homeland security, said Charles L. Cragin, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs. Formation of the reserve component WMD teams addresses a 21st Century national security concern – the possibility of asymmetrical warfare being waged on American soil.

The stakes are high. In 1995, Japanese terrorists unleashed Sarin, a deadly chemical nerve agent, within a section of Tokyo’s subway system, killing 12 people and injuring 5,000.

“It is recognition that America is clearly most vulnerable here at home,” Cragin said, “and that being able to assess this type of incident, and to be able to identify the agent, [whether] botulism, anthrax, or sarin gas … requires a certain high level of technology.

“Every fire department in America certainly can’t afford that sort of expertise or technology,” he added.

Locations of the new teams are still being determined, officials said. President Clinton and Defense Secretary William S. Cohen launched the initiative to provide the WMD teams two years ago. Each team has 22 full-time reserve component personnel who can quickly deploy to assist local civilian authorities in determining the nature and extent of a WMD attack or incident on the local populace.

Cragin said the active duty Army and Marine Corps have their own WMD teams, called technical escort units and chemical and biological incident response forces, respectively. These units, he said, are trained to respond to chemical, biological or radiological attack on federal installations and personnel.

While the National Guard WMD teams are federally funded, trained and doctrined, Cragin noted they come under state control, facilitating their rapid deployment to any incident site.

“Each WMD team is operated under the auspices of a state governor,” he said. “He or she can immediately react to a situation, rather than wait to work through the federal bureaucracy.

“Governors are the individuals responsible for dealing with issues that arise within their sovereign states. Of course, their National Guard units are their first military responders in a state capacity,” he concluded.

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