HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – As a small group
of fully dressed Soldiers and Airmen floated face down in a corner of the base pool, here, on the morning of Feb. 6, 2014, Army Sgt. Michael Wall stood on the side of the pool and watched.
“[The] survival float”, said Wall, survey team member, 1st Civil Support Team (Weapons of Mass Destruction), Massachusetts National Guard, “It helps them to control their breathing and allow them to have a longer time in the water without exhausting themselves. It’s just another way to survive in the water without using too much energy.”
Wall and the fully dressed floating members of the 1st CST were conducting a basic level swimming test.
“We try to get the folks in the water as much as possible because we have a maritime mission,” said Air Force Maj. Matthew Wollums, commander, 1st CST, “We’ve done many LNG missions with the Coast Guard.”
The mission of a CST is to identify, advise and assist civilian authorities on all levels when dealing with Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive incidents. These can range from an intentional to an unintentional incident, manmade or natural disasters. There is a CST in all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia. Three states have more than one CST.
The LNG mission deals with the Liquefied Natural Gas Tankers that dock at the Everett Marine Terminal. The terminal receives shipments of natural gas from different countries via large ocean tankers. The CST assist’s the U.S. Coast Guard in boarding and inspecting the vessels offshore, before they enter the port. This ensures that the vessels are not carrying any dangerous CBRNE substances that could damage the port or the LNG facility.
“We do the mission as safely as we can, they’re very large vessels”, said Wollums, “they essentially pull the tug [boat] under a ladder and set the ladder on the tip of the tug … and these boats are in motion while this is happening. There is risk involved and with any risk you try to mitigate it. We wear floatation devices; we wear dry suits if it’s below a certain temperature.”
While being able to tread water and wearing a personal flotation device might suffice for the average person, the CST has to take other aspects into account; mainly their gear.
“If [a Soldier or an Airman] fell off one of the vessels,” said Wall, “they’d most likely be in their [Army Combat Uniform] or [Air Battle Uniform], along with a backpack and a light helmet on their head as well as a firearm on their hip.”
The test consisted of the survival float, treading water for a specific period of time and then swimming laps in the pool demonstrating the ability to swim using specific strokes for each lap.
“It wasn’t that bad. I thought it was going to be a little more difficult with the uniform on … being weighed down with all the clothing,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Paul Mccadden, systems information analyst, 1st CST (WMD).“The last couple of laps, I started to feel it … I enjoyed it actually. I enjoyed it a lot.”
The unit intends to conduct the next level of training in the near future, possibly at a U.S. Coast Guard training facility.