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Homeland Security

New York National Guard Civil Support Team helps keeps the U.S. Open safe

By New York National Guard September 29, 2020

MAMARONECK, New York. -- When top golfers from the United States and Europe faced off for the 2020 U.S. Open Golf Championship at Winged Foot Golf Club Sept. 14-20, the New York National Guard's 24th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team was there to help spot radiological threats.

The U.S. Open Golf Championship is an annual open national championship and is one of the four major championships in golf in which top professional and amateur golf players from around the world compete against each other.

Normally, 45,000 spectators and staff attend, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, only 2,000 people were permitted to enter the course each day.

Even with fewer people, the 24th Civil Support Team's mission was as important as ever: to help the state police, the town of Mamaroneck, and the United States Golf Association reduce the threat of a hazardous attack.

The mission of the 24th, known as a CST for short, is not limited to the U.S. Open. The Soldiers and Airmen are routinely present for major events across New York, including the U.S. Open tennis tournament and the annual United Nations General Assembly, said Army Guard Lt. Col. Andrew Couchman, the commander of the team.

"The military core competencies we bring fill in the gaps for our local and state agencies to help make these missions be successful," Couchman said. "It may look quieter, but all of the agencies here have brought a number of personnel to ensure that all U.S. Open players and staff remain safe."

The 24th CST based at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn includes 22 Soldiers and Airmen trained to detect chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear hazards.

The unit is divided into survey and analytical teams. The survey team assesses a site and retrieves samples of potential hazards, while the analytical team figures out what kind of stuff the survey team found.

"For this mission, our survey team is conducting radiological monitoring of vehicles entering the premises," said Army Guard Staff Sgt. Christopher Rodriguez, the survey team chief. "We're screening for any type of delivery truck or vehicles that are making their way onto the grounds of the venue for radiological sources that are deemed harmful to the public."

Typically for events with many people, the CST conducts roving patrols using handheld radiological surveying equipment to ensure that crowds are thoroughly scanned.

"If a radiological source were to be detected, we would notify law enforcement on-site in order for them to interject, stop the vehicle and apprehend the suspects," Rodriguez said. "The personnel inside the CST truck would then dismount and use their handheld monitoring and detection equipment to locate the source."

All samples are taken to a sophisticated mobile laboratory and processed by the analytical team for either a chemical or biological hazard.

"In the analytical lab we're ready to receive any kind of sample, chemical or biological, and analyze it in under two hours on the scene," said Army Guard Maj. Gaetano Casarella, the nuclear medical science officer. "We can also analyze any of the radiation spectrum that the survey team may find on incoming vehicles."

While everyone on the grounds of the event was required to provide negative COVID-19 test results upon entry, the analytical team was prepared to provide rapid testing.

"We are the ultimate backstop for an immediate result of a negative test for law enforcement, or any United States Golf Association staff, or players, that may come down with COVID symptoms," Casarella said.

These events help the CST build better communications and familiarity with law enforcement and state and federal agencies.

"Working alongside local law enforcement really adds to our unit's preparedness in the event of a live threat," Rodriguez said. "We're more than capable and always ready to ensure the safety of the American people."

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