Florida’s WMD disaster response unit saved from elimination

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A Florida National Guard unit based in Pinellas County and designed to respond to weapons of mass destruction incidents was saved from possible elimination this week, according to testimony from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Speaking on April 16 before the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, Hagel said that the Florida National Guard’s 48th Civil Support Team (CST) and the New York National Guard’s 24th CST, will not be eliminated as was previously planned.

Florida and New York each have two National Guard civil support teams assigned to their states, and due to Department of Defense budget cuts each was slated to lose one 22-person team.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young noted that the 24th CST had responded to the Boston Marathon bombing incident that day.

“These are important teams, and Congress is very, very supportive of those teams,” the congressman said during the hearing.

Young’s congressional district in Florida includes Clearwater, Fla., where the 48th CST is based.

“We have funded both the New York and the Florida teams,” Hagel told the committee, as part of testimony which focused on the President’s fiscal 2014 budget request for the Department of Defense.

During the hearing Rep. Nita Lowey of New York also received assurance from the Secretary of Defense that the units would not be eliminated. In a statement on her website, the congresswoman recognized both Rep. Young and subcommittee member Rep. Bill Owens of New York for their roles in preventing the “National Guard Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams in Florida and New York from being eliminated.”

The 48th CST and its highly-trained members can provide assistance to state and local authorities during domestic incidents by: identifying chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive agents or substances; assessing potential consequences; and assisting with determining appropriate response measures.  The unit can deploy with high-tech equipment and expertise to advise civilian agencies during emergency operations and facilitate requests for assistance of additional state and federal assets to help save lives, prevent human suffering and mitigate property damage.

“We are gratified by Secretary Hagel’s determination to reverse last month’s decision to disestablish the 48th Civil Support Team,” said the Adjutant General of Florida Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw Jr. “In view of the clear threats to our nation and recognizing Florida’s high concentrations of valuable infrastructure, population densities, tourist destinations, and size; it was imperative that Florida retain both existing CSTs.”

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