Coast Guard gets anti-terror training at Fort Leonard Wood

Monday, February 11, 2002

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- The Coast Guard is adept at handling accidental chemical spills, but now its specialists are getting Army training on what to do when chemicals become weapons of mass destruction.

A group of 30 National Strike Force members recently spent four days at Fort Leonard Wood in southwest Missouri also learning about radiological and biological weapons -- other hazards they rarely expected to encounter before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Staffers at the U.S. Army Chemical School taught them to recognize when a person having convulsions has been exposed to a nerve agent and when skin redness is the result of a blister agent. They also learned how to use a dosimeter to scan people for radiation.

Some of them were sent fresh from training to the Olympic games in Salt Lake City, where there is concern that worldwide media attention and throngs of people could create an attractive target for terrorists.

"It's pretty low probability for us to encounter anything weaponized, but as you realize, and I'm sure the rest of the country does, anything is possible these days," said Lt. Cmdr. Ronald Cantin, executive officer of the Pacific Strike Team.

'A great opportunity'

Fort Leonard Wood has long provided chemical, engineering and military police training for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Roughly 20 percent of the 10,000 uniformed personnel at the post are from other branches of the military. Last month's marked the first time the Coast Guard has trained at the Pulaski County post.

"The exchange of capabilities is really a great opportunity for us," said Brig. Gen. Patricia Nilo, commander of the Army's chemical school. "They have an expertise in hazardous materials, and we have an expertise in warfare agents."

The National Strike Force, created in 1973 as a Coast Guard special force under the National Oil and Hazardous Substance Pollution Contingency Plan, has three teams: Atlantic at Fort Dix, N.J.; Gulf at Mobile, Ala.; and Pacific at Novato, Calif. It also includes the National Strike Force Coordination Center, based in Elizabeth City, N.C.

They are the Coast Guard's rapid-response team for oil and hazardous material incidents. Members provide technical and managerial expertise to the Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency and others in a catastrophe.

"The National Strike Force moves in after it's already happened," said Lt. Dennis Branson, the Coast Guard's liaison officer at Fort Leonard Wood. "They deal with what we call, 'consequence management."' But they also are sent to "national security special events," including being at the Olympics as part of a network of agencies providing rapid response in the event of chemical, biological or radiological attacks.

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