ST. GEORGE, Utah –
It’s dark, and you can’t remember what happened or where you are. All you know is you’re scared, trapped, and your head hurts, when suddenly you see a headlamp and your rescuer repelling down the staircase of what you assume used to be your office building. It is a worse-case scenario but the worse case is exactly what Soldiers and Airmen in civil support teams train for. As a chemical response team trained to operate in confined spaces and from the end of a rope, when disaster strikes, it may be one of these service members who comes to the rescue.
The Utah National Guard’s 85th Weapons of Mass Destruction–Civil Support Team or CST conducted joint training with teams from Hawaii, the 93rd CST, and Guam, the 94th CST, Nov. 16-18, 2021, in St. George, Utah. Civil support teams need to be proficient in chemical, nuclear, and biologic medical response, as well as operating in confined spaces and rope-rescue techniques.
According to Sgt. 1st Class Zachary White, the survey section noncommissioned officer with the 85th CST, the weather and diverse locations in Southern Utah provided the perfect area for the teams to practice and exercise critical thinking while conducting rope-rescue training.
“This training’s really important to the CST because at any given time we could be asked to support local authorities and these are some of the skills we are required to have,” said White. “This is really beneficial because rope-rescue skills are perishable. Being able to brush up on these skills is very valuable.”
Guam and Hawaii are both in Utah’s CST response area and if necessary, the 85th CST could be asked to support those locations. Training with them provided an opportunity for the organizations to learn from each other and familiarize themselves with each other’s operating procedures.
“Guam and Hawaii are both in our CST response region and it’s always good to train with people we may work with in the future,” said White. “It’s good to bring them here, show them our beautiful state and train with them in terrain they may not otherwise get to see.”
The training event focused on repelling and recovering patients from a location with steep vertical angles. St. George provided a perfect spot for the training with its many natural features and repelling locations. Staff Sgt. Christopher Petersen, 85th CST training noncommissioned officer, said even though they are not training in a confined space in St. George, the natural features and various locations allows them to train in an area that offers diverse opportunities in a relatively controlled environment and the skills they learn and develop translate well to operating in confined spaces.
The unit took a crawl, walk, run approach to the training. The first day was spent training on the operation patient recovery equipment, personal safety gear, and tying essential knots for repelling and recovering a patient. The second day, the training focused on repelling down a cliff face and exercising their recovery equipment and procedures. On the third day, the units put all the skills they learned together and conducted a mock exercise consisting of surveying a slot canyon in Southern Utah, identifying victims at the bottom of the canyon, and rescuing them.
“When it comes to rope rescue, these are the types of environments you would expect to conduct a rescue and in Utah there are no better locations than Southern Utah to conduct that type of training,” said White. “Within the CST we have a wide variety of expertise. Today, we are running through basic rope-rescue skills, the next day we’re actually doing rescue lanes, and on the following day we’re doing a rescue. That provides us the opportunity to cater to each individual's level of proficiency.”
From the bottom of a slot canyon service members put all the training they received to the test. The final day of the training consisted of a rescue mission exercise. The teams surveyed the area, developed a plan, repelled down to a patient and returned them to the top of the canyon. While it was just a training event, the skills they honed have real-world value and prepare them for real-world situations.