HELENA — A Montana National Guard unit is getting a lift ahead of a big exercise this week.
On Monday, two huge C-17 aircraft arrived in Helena to carry the 83rd Civil Support Team to a training at Boca Chica Key, Florida – the site of Naval Air Station Key West. That includes about 15 Guard members and eight vehicles.
“This’ll be the first time that the whole team has actually loaded aboard aircraft and deployed outside the state of Montana as a whole,” said Capt. Jeff Whitney, the team’s acting commander.
Team members went through final inspections on their vehicles Monday before loading them onto the planes. They’re set to depart on Tuesday morning.
The 83rd CST is specially trained to support the response in case of a chemical, biological and radiological incidents – including pre. They’re called in to help identify what substances may be present and how authorities should respond. They also assist with hazardous material and disaster response, and with preparations for large events in Montana and beyond.
Whitney said, this week, the team will be doing a joint exercise with the 82nd CST from South Dakota, and working with the 48th CST from Florida, along with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. They’ll practice responding to an illegal drug lab.
“Identifying what the process is, what they’re making in a clandestine-type lab,” he said.
Whitney said this type of training is important for the team.
“Working these full-scale exercises like this is what helps us be prepared for real-world incidents,” he said.
The CST also passes on what they learn to emergency responders around the state.
“We provide our first responders within the state of Montana a lot of beneficial training,” Whitney said. “We can provide training aids and put on training events that might not be available to the smaller rural districts. We work with fire departments quite a lot. We work with the state's hazmat teams as well as the federal agencies within Montana when we get called up for responses.”
The team is scheduled to fly back to Montana this Saturday.