Workload grows for Army emergency response unit.
Since 1971, the TEU has been removing chemical weapons and munitions in Japan and Germany, and storing and destroying them on Johnston Atoll, in the Marshall Islands.
Lt. Col. Franz Amann, TEU commander, said the unit is always in search of the latest technology, and often purchases commercial off-the-shelf equipment. The inter-agency Technical Support Working Group helps to fund research and development efforts.
Among the TEU's needs are lightweight, improved detection devices that cut down on the number of false positives, said Amann.
The TEU employs sophisticated systems, such as the Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy (PINS), a non-intrusive chemical assay that can identify the contents of munitions and storage containers. It works by shooting a beam of neutrons. The neutrons bounce into the elements of the material inside the munitions and produce gamma rays. Each dement has a particular gamma ray signature.
"In Operation Iraqi Freedom, we came across things that the regular Army couldn't handle," said Col. Timothy Madere, commander of Guardian Brigade, which now is the TEU's parent organization. "Conventional forces--their job is to identify contamination and avoid it. TEU--their job is to mitigate hazards."
The TEU used PINS to detect whether a cache of 120mm mortar shells, discovered by Danish troops in Iraq, contained mustard gas. The Danes found the 136 shells in early January, buried just north of Basra.
"Our team did go to Basra. [They] assessed the munitions. They were not what the Danes thought they were," said Amann.
Danish troops said the shells tested positive for blister agent, according to Amann. They also thought the munitions were at least 10 years old.
"They were not using very sophisticated equipment," said Amann. "The tests we use are much more sensitive. We are comfortable with our test results."
The shells in Basra tested negative for any chemical agent.
Data collected from the tests on the mortar shells was sent to the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, a Department of Energy facility in Idaho Falls. Many of the researchers who developed PINS continue to work at the site. They reviewed the information, photographs and X-rays supplied by the TEU.
The information was then passed onto the Materiel Assessment Review Board, located at the Edgewood Area at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The board is made up of experts in explosive ordnance and nuclear physicists. Depending on the nature of the threat, the board can convene in person or by conference call.
If the information reveals a threat, the board can complete its analysis and report back to the TEU within a few hours.
TEU teams were on hand in Iraq to assist the ISG. There were six teams in Iraq, designed for specific operations, said Amann. Each team stayed for six months before rotating out.
"Some members have been to Iraq a few times," he said.
One team was assigned to deal with any industrial hazards. They responded to a chlorine gas leak near Baghdad, said Madere.
"It wasn't a direct military mission, but [they] helped reduce a major hazard," said Madere.
Today, only one team is left in Iraq. Others were sent to Afghanistan.
The TEU is made up of both military and civilian personnel. Many of the civilian members are retired military.
The TEU has locations east and west of the Mississippi River, said Amann. "It allows us to maneuver, and provide the Army flexibility on how we move individuals and how we plan," he said.
The six teams are located at Aberdeen; Dugway Proving Ground, Utah; Fort Belvoir, Va., and Pine Bluff Arsenal, Ark.
"We are trying to increase our visibility," Amann said.
In OIF and Operation Enduring Freedom, civilians brought capabilities and training that soldiers were lacking, said Amann.
Civilians are "a big asset," he said. "We deployed as many military as civilians."
Even with civilian members, the TEU is ready to roll out on a moment's notice, said Amann.
"There is always a military team available. If we need civilians they are ready too," he said. "TEU has a short lead time."
For example, in March 1997, New York City police thought they had discovered a container of Sarin gas in the basement of a home. The canister was labeled "Biological Hazard/Sarin Gas." Police also found 200 gallons of jet fuel, explosive, scientific equipment and generators. The New York Police Department's hazardous material team, the Emergency Service Unit, transported the canister to an outdoor range in the Bronx. The Joint Terrorism Task Force, made up of detectives from the NYPD and FBI special agents, contacted the TEU in Aberdeen, around midnight. By 3 a.m. the team was on the scene, according to a TEU spokesperson.
The canister was flown back to Aberdeen, where it was tested for Sarin gas. It turned out the container was empty.
Depending on the task, the TEU team can range in size from three to 50 people.
Besides having to fulfill their required Army training, TEU personnel must complete mission specific training based upon the work they will perform.
For example, chemical teams must complete training on personnel protective equipment, chemical agent toxicological aid, Occupational Safety and Health Administration hazard communication standards, and they must submit to biochemical testing.
EOD soldiers are required to undergo refresher training every five years and must attend an explosive ordnance recognition briefing, and radiation safety training.
All TEU members, no matter what their area of expertise, must receive a Technical Escort Certification. The certification includes fulfilling the basic chemical personnel reliability program requirements, qualifying to use a 9 mm pistol and M16 rifle, and becoming familiar with a shotgun, for ground-escort missions.
The training program lasts up to six months and costs approximately $60,000 per person, said Amann.
Because the TEU is one of the most specialized units in the military, its members have become a recruiting target for private companies, said Amann.
"It's a major challenge for retention. Their skills are sought after by industry, because they are [hazardous materials] qualified," he said.
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|Author:||Fein, Geoff S.|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2004|
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