For as long as he can remember, Tech. Sgt. James P. Hargraves wanted to work alongside the Nation’s best and brightest, specifically three and four-letter agencies: High-visibility, front-line federal government departments that even children become familiar with after learning the alphabet.
“The cream of the crop, the crème de la crème, the best of the best,” Hargraves said. “I wanted to work with the best counter weapons of mass destruction team in the nation, and ‘The President’s CST’ is that team.”
Hargraves transferred from Active Duty Emergency Management to the District of Columbia National Guard’s 33rd Weapons of Mass Destruction-Civil Support Team (WMD-CST). The 33rd WMD-CST supports civil authorities at a domestic Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear high-yield Explosives incident site(s) by identifying agents/substances, assessing current or potential threats and hazards, advising leaders on response measures and capabilities, and assisting a multitude of agencies across the federal and non-federal government.
“Threats change,” said 1st Sgt. Christopher Miller, 33rd WMD-CST’s first sergeant. “Every time the enemy comes up with a new weapon, we come up with a counter-weapon. Every time we come up with a new capability, there’s a counter-capability. As the bad guys develop more and learn our tactics and procedures, we must adapt and stay ahead. This includes emergency response and prevention.”
In addition to supporting major events, including the 2023 United Nations Summit, Super Bowl LVII, and other high-profile sports/political events, WMD-CSTs train with their military counterparts and federal authorities continuously. Last month, the 33rd WMD-CST trained with the Department of Energy (DOE) and the 22nd WMD-CST, Puerto Rico, as part of a mandatory Radiological Assistance Program (RAP) Training for Emergency Response (RAPTER).
“We’re required to be able to respond to threats, and when it comes to the radiation threat, we have a whole suite of capabilities and partners,” Miller said. “We primarily focused on real-world scenarios and interoperability training.”
Earlier this year, the 33rd WMD-CST acquired a Vehicle-Mounted Radiological Detection System (VMRDS). Miller believes it elevates the National Guard’s capabilities to a broader scale.
“We were one of the first teams to get the VMRDS, instead of having to use handheld equipment to look for radiation at a more limited scale; this boosts safety and efficiency,” he said.
On Nov. 6, National Guard Bureau (NGB) J39 hosted a WMD-CST Capabilities Symposium at the D.C. Armory, offering federal partners, state/local agencies, and civilian first responders an up-close look at the 33rd WMD-CST capabilities, equipment, and team members (CBRN, search and extraction, decontamination, medical, and FSRT).
“We’ve had everyone here from D.C. Fire to the FBI and U.S. Secret Service,” Miller said.
Hargraves recognizes the importance of getting more than acquainted with these friendly neighborhood responders; at any moment, the 33rd WMD-CST could be called upon to identify, assess, advise, and assist.
“We’re ready to deploy, 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, 365-days a year, at a moment’s notice,” he said. “No matter the incident, no matter the hour, we are always ready to respond to the unknowns.”