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Home » Wyoming’s 84th Civil Support Team looks for unique training environments

Wyoming’s 84th Civil Support Team looks for unique training environments

He expected the call, but didn’t know at what hour it might come. As Capt. Adam Oswalt’s phone rang, he awoke, slung his feet over the edge of the bed, and sat up. It was 4 a.m. and it was time to train.

As a survey team leader for the Wyoming National Guard’s 84th Civil Support Team, in Cheyenne, his training is seemingly unending. The unique mission of the CST requires constant training as the team responds to the entire gamut of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear incidents, as well as natural and man-made disasters. It’s a busy unit; it’s led all CSTs in the nation in real-world responses three years running.

The team, a mix of Army and Air Force personnel, are largely, and impressively, self-sufficient. Their specialized skill sets take an average of two-to-three years to acquire.

“You can never be an expert in the CST,” said Oswalt. “You are always training and learning. There is always someone smarter than you, which is great because that means there is always more you can learn.”

The 4 a.m. call came, in part, courtesy of Lloyd Stading, president of Defense Services International. Stading was contacted by Lt. Col. Holly Shenefelt, 84th CST commander, and asked to provide her team training to hone their skills and prepare them for an upcoming external evaluation.

Stading has worked extensively with CSTs for more than 11 years. He founded DSI seven years ago to increase training opportunities for the nation’s 57 CSTs. To date, Stading and company have helped train 51 of the teams.

“We design the training scenarios based on the commander’s intent and objectives,” said Stading. “We bring in former CST members, law enforcement officers and Special Forces personnel who have the core competencies to complement the specific scenario for the individual CST we are training.”

In order for the training to be effective, it has to contain elements of the unknown. If the 84th goes to a familiar area, there isn’t the element of surprise.

“I’ve spent years helping coordinate our team training,” said Doug Bare, a soon-to-be retired senior master sergeant who worked as a member of the 84th since 2005 as survey team chief, logistics noncommissioned officer and first sergeant. “The first three years that I worked with the CST my job was to put together all the training lanes. It was a lot of work. These training lanes are just one way for us to practice and be evaluated on our skills.”

Bare is well known and respected in the CST realm, his expertise is why he was chosen to run one last training for the team.

“The city has bent over backwards to let us use their property and buildings in which to do these excises. If these [CST] guys find out where we are going, they’ll map it out, which is why we asked the state government to help us find new training locations and keep them a secret. The members of the 84th are very inquisitive,” said Bare, with a smile and laugh.

Rich Merrill, administer of the General Services Division for Wyoming’s Administration and Information Department, was the lynchpin for ensuring the training location remained unknown. Merrill spent years working for the Wyoming Military Department and is familiar with the CST, so it made sense when Shenefelt reached out in 2016 in an attempt to procure various training locations to train in 2017.

“Lt. Col. Shenefelt and I have a good relationship – which she does with a lot of folks,” said Merrill. “She asked me many months ago about the possibility of using our facilities. We started by looking at which facilities were available and then touring them to see what might work best for them. We chose the location and were able to keep it a secret.”

With the training scenario and locations in place, it was time to execute.

Oswalt, along with other members of the 84th, arrived June 6 at the CST facility around 4:30 a.m. Shenefelt met them to brief them on the situation before they left for downtown Cheyenne.

“To set the conditions for good training, you have to begin with a detailed mission brief to the team to get them into the right mindset for the type of environment they could be responding to. The key is to train like we fight,” said Shenefelt.

“We don’t give them injects along the way like many typical military trainings would see,” said Bare. “Injects are fairly artificial, so we try to stay away from those as they wouldn’t be very realistic. We tell them the scenario and then they handle it.”

“For this training, we gave them a scenario in which a foreign country was trying to ensure we couldn’t counter-launch if attacked first,” said Stading. “From there, it’s up to them. We have the labs built already and then we get to sit back and observe and critique how they handle the response.”

The training spanned sunrise to sunset.

“The benefit of today and other trainings we’ve hosted is that CSTs are looking at it from a completely different perspective. We bring that non-CST approach, which makes the training unique” said Stading.

As unique as the CST mission set is, so are the various people, entities and locations they respond to. It’s part of what makes that 4 a.m. callout always worth it.