No one knows when. No one knows where. But experts agree that it's only a matter of time before there is a weapon of mass destruction terrorist attack here in the United States. And when it happens, soldiers from detachment to 704th Chemical Company, will be prepared to respond.
The 704th Chemical Company (based in Arden Hills with a detachment in Paynesville) is the first fully-qualified hazardous-material trained chemical reconnaissance unit in the Army Reserve. Ten reservists based in Paynesville completed two weeks of training at the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy in Lewistown, Penn. The first group attended from June 4 to 17 and the remainder of the unit completed the training on July 22. A directive from Washington, D.C., stated the unit should be ready to respond to a chemical threat.
"Well, it basically (a weapon of mass destruction attack) is the known threat," said Lt. Col. Luis A. Millan, deputy chief of staff for operations for the Weapons of Mass Destruction Division of the U.S. Army Reserve Command. "That's why we're doing this. They know the threat is out there. They don't have a date, but there is a high probability that a weapon of mass destruction will be used, and we just need to be ready."
Sergeant First Class Jim Millard, New London, said the training covered a broad spectrum of hazardous materials. "The training had us interacting with each other, learning how to use self contained breathing apparatus," he added.
"We went through practical exercises using hazardous materials emergency response equipment," Millard said. He explained the suits they wore were designed to resist hazardous chemicals and not fires. "We simulated drills such as a chemical spill," he added.
Lt. Col. Millan said the unit trained in Pennsylvania because the equipment civilians use is better than the protective equipment the Army has available.
The training also covers chemicals and possible mixtures of chemicals that the Army doesn't normally come in contact with, such as industrial toxic chemicals.
Millan said the training gives the reserve units more familiarity in dealing with nuclear, biological, and chemical agents. While the National Guard would be the first assistance most state agencies would turn to if there was an attack, the reserve forces would be backup. The reservists could walk through the decontaminated area and do the monitoring.
Millan said the reserves could be the first responders in an attack. "We can get ready almost immediately. The intent is to save lives," Millan added. Once the unit is trained and equipped, they become a department of defense asset. For a big event, such as the Winter Olympics to be held in Salt Lake City in 2002, the unit could be predeployed to the event and ready for a mission.
More army units will be taking the training. While the 704th is the first unit to finish the training, other chemical reconnaissance companies are scheduled to be activated and trained in the next few years. Twenty-five existing casualty decontamination units are also scheduled to be trained.
The Paynesville unit has been part of the Arden Hills chemical company for two years. Completing the training from the Paynesville unit were Loren Schmidtz, Little Falls; Curtis Tollin, Garfield; Michael Isaak, Fargo, N.D.; Jason Johnson, Cosmos; Jim Millard, New London; Paul Weltin, Alexandria; Brian Ekstrom, Spicer; Mark Nichols, Paynesville; Eric Glesne, Willmar; and Tyler Bratsch, Lake Lillian.
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