Briefing On U.S. Army Chem/Bio Weapons Disposal
NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense
DoD News Briefing U.S. Army Technical Escort Unit Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2002
(Briefing on the U.S. Army's Chemical, Biological, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Units. Participants include Maj. Rudy Burwell, Army Public Affairs, Lt. Col. George Lecakes, commander, U.S. Army Technical Escort Unit, Capt. Anthony Dubay, plans officer, TEU, Sgt. 1st. Class Jones, explosive ordnance disposal operation sergeant TEU, 1st Sgt. Paul Strang, first sergeant for Headquarters Company TEU, Capt. Timothy Herd, commander, Headquarters Company TEU, Michael Rehmert, plans specialist TEU, Sgt. 1st Class Kerrethel Avery, chemical operations sergeant TEU, Capt. Regan Edens, team leader, TEU, Staff Sgt. Michael McRoberts, chemical operations sergeant Joint Response Team TEU)
Burwell: Good afternoon. I'm Major Rudy Burwell with Army Public Affairs, Media Relations Division. I'd like to welcome you here today. For those of you who came from the outside and braved the rain, we appreciate you showing up. I think you're in a for a good treat today.
Today you'll have the unique opportunity to see a demonstration of the capabilities of the Army's premier Technical Escort Unit or TEU. Lieutenant Colonel George Lecakes, commander of the TEU, will be your narrator for the demonstration. After that, we'll have some time for some questions and answers that you may have, and also the ability to talk to, hopefully, some soldiers after the event.
So without -- with that, I'd like to introduce Lieutenant Colonel Lecakes.
Lecakes: Thank you. Good afternoon. I am Lieutenant Colonel George Lecakes, the commander of the U.S. Army Technical Escort Unit. And on behalf of America's guardians, thank you for this opportunity to come and show you first-hand some of what we do.
Unfortunately, the majority of our missions are no notice, hazardous, and classified. Therefore, there haven't been many opportunities for you to see us in action first-hand. And so today we've put together a demonstration that revolves around three separate scenarios that represent support TEU could be asked to provide or has provided in the past. Before we begin, though, I'd like to take a minute and tell you a little bit about our unit.
We are a one-of-a-kind battalion-level organization that is comprised of six companies located in four states, to provide a regional response capability to both our homeland and our combatant commanders. The battalion consists of both military and civilian men and women who stand ready 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to go wherever and whenever required.
On January 20th, 2003, the battalion will celebrate its 60th anniversary, and in doing so, remains the longest continually serving active chemical battalion in the United States Army. If you think back to our inception -- 1943 -- and what was going on in the world, you would note the emergence of what I like to refer to as unconventional munitions and material -- nuclear, biological and chemical. Recognizing the hazards associated with these materials and the need for an organization responsible for the safe transport of them, Executive Order 10 was signed and so TEU was born. However, don't be misled by our name. Today, escorting only encompasses about 10 percent of our mission. For the remainder -- remaining 90 percent of our mission, it involves our core capabilities, which are on the board to my left [chemical/biological advice, sampling, detection, monitoring, limited decon packaging, escort, render safe procedures, disposal], and providing those capabilities to both the civil authorities in the homeland as well as our combatant commanders. Additionally, TEU along with the United States Army Corps of Engineers plays a vital role in the remediation of our formerly used defense sites.
And finally, TEU in conjunction with the product manager for non- stockpile [chemical materiel] provides an emergency response capability in the event that a chemical or biological material is covered anywhere else in the continental United States.
So let's go ahead and begin. What we have are three scenarios for you. And each one is tied to an item. Two are relatively common. The first is a football, the second is a letter, and the third is an item that we hope isn't too common, and that is a World War II vintage munition. But should you have one of these collecting dust in your basement or your garage, please give your local fire department or police a call. They'll know what to do.
Throughout the course of the year there may be several events that the president of the United States deems as national special security events. And as a result, specialty units like TEU, who possess unique capabilities, are often called upon to provide support. These events include such things as the national annual Boy Scout Jamboree, the presidential inauguration, the national Republican and Democratic conventions, and the 2002 Winter Olympics, just to name a few.
So today is Super Bowl Sunday. The scene is Ravens Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland. TEU, along with a number of other specialty units from DOD and the federal government, are on hand to provide their unique capabilities in the event of an incident. It is early in the day, and stadium security is performing one of its many sweeps when a bomb dog suddenly alerts on what appears to be a large lunch box, perhaps left behind by a stadium worker. A bomb unit is called to the site and is able to make a determination after taking an X-ray that the package does, in fact, contain some type of an explosive. However, they are concerned because it also appears to contain some type of a canister filled with a liquid. Fearing some type of a dispersal device, TEU is summoned to the site and links up with the initial responders to review their data. Should their X-ray not be clear enough, TEU has an explosive ordnance disposal technician just like the one before you today who can move downrange with our equipment and take another X-ray with a more powerful device. Should that X-ray be clear and the team able to differentiate between the explosive and the detonator, the team may elect to use a PAN disrupter in order to render the item explosively safe. Once the item has been rendered explosively safe, the chemical personnel from the team can move quickly downrange, package the item and then transport it to a predetermined location for either further analysis or disposal.
Our second scenario involves a letter delivered to a military installation, a letter not unlike the one delivered to Senator Daschle's office. A government employee opens the envelope and notices a white powdery substance. The building is evacuated and a call is put into TEU. TEU responds with a sampling team. One member of this team is the recorder, who also functions or serves as the team leader. His or her job is to enter the room first and give it a quick once-over to determine the best areas to sample.
A computer monitor, because of its static charge and ability to attract particles, represents a good sampling area. The team leader calls for the sampling team, and in this case it consists of two individuals. They make a determination that the best way to sample this surface is to utilize a bio-swipe kit. One team member pours a poly-buffered saline solution over the sponge to dampen it, then removes the sponge from the packet and swipes the screen of the monitor, first in a horizontal direction and then in a vertical direction to ensure a thorough swipe. When complete, the sponge is returned to the package, and the second team member squeezes the solution out of it.
From here, the solution is transferred into a second packet that is used to filter it. And finally, the solution is placed in a third container for transport. Before sealing that container, however, a small sample is taken and a applied to a series of bioassays. Once the solution has been applied to all the bioassays, the team leader is notified and begins a time hack. After the required amount of time, all the pertinent information is recorded and the assays are placed back to back and into a package so as they can be easily read without having to open the package at a later date and time.
The outside of the package is thoroughly decontaminated and then transported to the fourth member of the team, the clean member, whose job it is to remain on the cold side, or away from the contamination. This may require this individual to remain outside of the building. His or her job is to conduct the final packaging of the item, and then transport it to a predesignated laboratory, either military or commercial, for final analysis.
In addition to all the samples, the trash as a result of the sampling is packaged up and included in the transport, as it may too offer samples that can be used at a later date.
Our third and final scenario takes place on a remediation project at a formerly used defense site, where a contract worker comes across what appears to be a World War II vintage munition. Upon closer examination, the external markings of the munition indicate that it possibly could contain a chemical agent fill.
TEU is called to the site, and responds much the same as in the first case, where an explosive ordnance disposal technician moves down-range and takes an X-ray in order to determine the type fill, liquid or solid. In addition, this X-ray is utilized in the placement of the team's PIN system, or Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy, a device that the team has that provides an alternative to drilling and sampling, a non-intrusive means of determining what's in the round.
The information is collected by the technicians on site. It's then transmitted back to the battalion, where a Munitions [Materiel] Assessment and Review Board is convened, consisting of a panel of technological and scientific experts who review the data to determine the type fill and the appropriate disposal.
And so you've seen three demonstrations today that involved TEU -- and while all of these demonstrations take place in a peace-time environment, the same skill sets that you've observed today are also used to support our combat and commanders.
At this time, before we take your questions, I'd like to take an opportunity and allow the guardians that were part of today's demonstration to introduce themselves.
Dubay: Good afternoon. I'm Captain Tony Dubay from Cocoa Beach, Florida. I'm the battalion plans officer. My duties include planning, coordinating, and conducting training exercises and response operations with all military units, as well as local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Additionally, I provide a liaison capability to combatant commanders and a rapidly deployable assessment capability for a variety of chemical and biological emergencies.
I've been in the Army for six years as an explosive ordnance disposal officer and responded to over 150 unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive device incidents. I hold a Bachelor of Science Degree from Tulane University in cellular and molecular biology, and I'm a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course, Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Advanced Access and Disablement, Joint Nuclear EOD Operations, Combined Armed Services Staff School, and the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course. I hold the senior explosive ordnance disposal badge and am a cross-trained combat life saver.
Jones: Hi. I'm Sergeant 1st Class Kerry Jones. My hometown is Chicago, Illinois. I'm the battalion explosive ordnance disposal operation NCO. I have served in the military for 16 years. I've been awarded the master EOD badge and the air assault badge. I'm a graduate of the advanced EOD management technology course, Advanced Access and Disablement, and the British improvised explosive device course, and numerous other courses related to the safety and the assessment of hazardous devices.
Strang: I'm 1st Sergeant Paul Strang, Headquarters and Headquarters Company 1st Sergeant. I've been in the Army 19-1/2 years, and my hometown is Iron Mountain, Michigan. I hold an Associate's Degree from Central Texas College and am a graduate of the United States Army Sergeant Major's Academy First Sergeants' course, chemical operations specialist basic and advanced non-commissioned officers course, United States Army technical escort course. And I'm cross-trained in decontamination, monitoring and detection of chemical agents; the hazardous prediction and analysis of nuclear, biological and chemical releases. I'm also a certified official for hazardous materials. I'm certified in CPR and first-aid.
Herd: I'm Captain Tim Herd, company commander for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, United States Army Technical Escort Unit. My hometown is Baltimore, Maryland. I've been the Army for 13 years. I'm a graduate of the chemical officers basic course, chemical captains career course, combined armed services staff school technical escort course, environmental compliance officers course, radiation safety officers course, airborne air assault schools. I have also earned a Master of Science degree in environmental management. I am cross-trained in chemical, biological and environmental sampling, decontamination procedures, hazardous workers' protection, CPR and first aid.
Rehmert: I'm Mr. Michael Rehmert. As a Department of the Army civilian, I present the other half of the Technical Escort Team. I have 35 years' government service. I was born in Baltimore, Maryland and now reside in New Freedom, Pennsylvania. I have a degree from Campbell University. My duties as a planning specialist include planning for emergency responses, remediation, historical research. I have participated in over 30 remediations and emergency responses and over 50 escorts of materials. I am cross-trained in the area of heavy equipment operation, PINS operation, detection, assessment, packaging, transportation, CPR, first aid, and confined space entry and rescue.
Avery: I am Sergeant First Class Kerrethel Avery. I'm the chemical operations sergeant for the battalion. My hometown is Cincinnati, Ohio. I have 16 years' active military service. During that time I have graduated from the Technical Escort course, the Chemical Recon course, the Chemical Basic and Advanced Non-Commissioned Officer course, the Radiological Safety course, and the Drill Sergeant course. I am cross-trained in CPR, first aid, combat life saver, OSHA instructor, chemical, biological and environmental sampling, confined space, hazardous prediction assessment capabilities, fast rope, I am a certified official of hazardous material shipment with over 20 escorts, and I have been on a 90-day deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
McRoberts: I am Staff Sergeant Michael McRoberts. I've been in the Army for four years. I'm from Kittanning, Pennsylvania. I'm a team member for the battalion Joint Response Team. I'm a graduate of Advanced Individual Training for Chemical Operations Specialist, the Air Assault School, and the Technical Escort course. I'm cross-trained in decontamination, chemical and biological sampling, packaging and escort of hazardous materials, as well as fast rope, Combat Life Saver, and CPR and first aid. I have recently returned from a six-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Edens: My name is Captain Regan Edens, and I'm from Houston, Texas. I've been in the Army for six years, and I serve in the battalion as a team leader and special projects officer. As a team leader, I lead joint national and theater support teams for the combatant commanders. I graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor of science degree in human development. I'm also a graduate of the Chemical Officer basic course. I'm airborne qualified. I'm a fast rope master. I'm special weapons and tactics qualified. And I am also cross-trained in chem, bio, environmental and sampling operations. Last but not least, I am a combat life saver, and I just returned with Staff Sergeant McRoberts from a six-month-long deployment from Central Command.
Lecakes: Ladies and gentlemen, you have just seen a demonstration that shows you what our unit was designed to do. What I'd like to do now is share a recent experience that would -- that illustrates the caliber of men and women assigned to TEU and what they're wiling to do.
It was a day not unlike any other day in Afghanistan, and TEU's team was in between missions. So the team leader decided it was a good opportunity for him to go out and do some training to hone their skills. There were about two miles outside of base camp, conducting their training, when they noticed an explosion off in the distance.
Now this isn't uncommon in Afghanistan, because it's heavily mined. And quite frequently animals will trip the mines.
The team continued to train. A few minutes later someone noticed what appeared to be a group rushing their position. As a result, the team leader gave the order to take up defensive positions.
As the group got closer, it was clear that something was wrong. In fact, one of the members had what appeared to be a small boy on his back.
The team leader gave the order for his team to stand down, and he asked for one of his soldiers to accompany him as he went to see how they could help.
As they got closer, it was quite evident that the boy had been injured as a result of the exploding mine. In fact, he had severe injuries to his head, his neck, his chest and his hands. In fact, one of his hands had been totally severed off.
So all of a sudden, complete strangers had one goal in common, and that was to save a boy's life. The first priority, because the boy had lost so much blood, was to stop the bleeding. So utilizing an old tire iron and a piece of cloth, they were able to fashion a tourniquet and stop the bleeding. Second priority was the boy needed some fluids, or he certainly wouldn't survive a trip back to the medical facility for treatment.
Now it had been two -- over two years since Captain Edens had given an IV, but his training on this day didn't fail him, and the second time it took.
Now to make a long story short, the boy will live. And while he has a long road to recovery and his life has forever been changed, there is a number of Afghanis who know that America cares.
And so Captain Edens was afforded an opportunity to visit that young boy before being redeployed, and him and his team leader moved out one morning. And in addition to those two individuals, they took a green teddy bear -- a green teddy bear that wears the dog tags of those team members that were just as glad to have met that little boy on that horrific day as he him. So you see, that's what TEU's all about -- the right people with the right equipment and the right training, where they need to be.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.
Burwell: At this time, we can take your questions. I just wanted to add that although they can talk about their unique capabilities, they will not be able to speak about or speculate on real-world missions or operations. So with that, your questions, please.
Q: Can you tell us the types of missions that you were performing in Afghanistan, within whatever constrictions there are -- or restrictions, then?
Lecakes: You want to take that?
Edens: Thank you, sir.
My name's Captain Edens. I was the team leader there in Afghanistan. All the core capabilities that you see here today are exactly the same core capabilities that we provide to the combatant commander. Of course, the environment's changed, somebody's shooting at you, but specifically, they are the same. We provide chem-bio sampling, packaging, escort and some analytical capability, along with my explosive ordnance disposal techs. So it's identical to what you see.
Q: If Special Operations or -- (off mike) -- found a cache of some weapons, they thought something, would maybe call you guys in?
Edens: Yes, sir. If the maneuver commander on the ground suspects that it's chem-bio related, they give a call up through the chain of command, and that theater commander reaches out and touches us. Then we respond on the objective.
Q How good is your evaluation in the field? In the scenario here, you had to send the anthrax -- suspected anthrax off for sampling --
Edens: That's correct.
Q: -- at a lab. What do you have with you in the field?
Edens: We have the same analytical capability that you saw today with the bioassay ticket. Again, that's a presumptive analysis, which provides us an immediate result, within 15 minutes; and then again for confirmatory analysis back in the United States, we reach back and send that sample back. You have to be a hundred percent certain.
Lecakes: It's important to understand that in the bio- arena, the only proof-positive means we have of saying what it is, is to actually grow a culture in a laboratory. The technology's just not there. In addition to what you saw here, we have a second level, or a portable laboratory, that in act we have deployed into the CENTCOM AOR. It just provides another means of giving us an indication of whether or not we need to take that sample and escort it to either a military or a commercial laboratory for confirmatory analysis.
Q: Which chemical or biological weapon, as a unit, do y'all fear most being utilized in the United States?
Lecakes: I would tell you that -- that's a great question. And I don't know if it's so much a case of which one do you fear most, because they're all bad. And you need to understand that it's the parts per million or the parts per billion that kills you when you're dealing with a chemical or a biological material. So I would tell you, regardless of what it is, if the concentration is sufficient and the environmental conditions are right, they're all just as deadly.
Q: But which one in terms of the ability to be deployed?
Lecakes: I would tell you that we fear none. I mean, we are trained to handle all of them.
Q: How do you specifically -- I mean, as being deployed in the country, as being the most dangerous.
Lecakes: Again I would tell you that that's a function of the conditions. And it would be difficult for me to say.
Q: Yes. I wanted to ask -- both Captain Dubay and Sergeant First Class Jones look extraordinary hot in their outfits. The others also look hot. But I'm wondering what your thoughts are about operating in those uniforms in desert-type conditions? All of you.
Voice: Well, I've actually operated in a 110-degree environment with the suit and protective gear. I did it for an hour and a half. I mean, the environment, yeah, it plays a key role, but the conditioning of our bodies, PT, and using the suit all the time, we get used to it. It's like being acclimated to the suit.
Q: You look hot now, though. (Laughter.)
Voice: Right now. But I'll rehydrate, and I'll be okay. (Laughs.)
Q: Could one of you tell us, what is the function of the drug atropine in first aid in chemical attacks? And does it have any other function, other than that?
Lecakes: Do you want to take that one, Sergeant Avery (sp)?
Avery: Yes, sir.
What was your question again? I'm sorry.
Q: Atropine. What is the -- how does that function as an antidote or partial antidote for certain kinds of nerve agents, and does it have any other function other than that?
Avery: No, sir, it doesn't have any other function other than to just help you, if you was hit with a nerve agent, and depending on the concentration that you was hit with, is how much you actually need.
Q: And what kinds of things is it effective against?
Avery: Just your typical military war nerve agent.
Q: It's used after the fact? After the --
Avery: After the fact, yes, sir.
Lecakes: Within the first two minutes of developing symptoms.
Q: Can you just walk us through how you would do that?
Lecakes: Well, there's two ways it can be administered. Either it can be self-aid, where the individual recognizes it himself, and he's told to administer one kit -- self-administer. It's a needle that when it's pressed against the flesh, the needle will come out and do the injection. Then there's the second means, which is buddy aid, where you may come across an individual who has administered one, or has lost consciousness, and then you would administer all three kits.
Have you got one, here's an example. And it consists of atropine and 2-PAM chloride. Two ingredients. One is designed to stop the lock-and-key mechanism that's associated with the interferons, and the other is to actually speed up the metabolism, to get it into your system quicker.
Q: Colonel, you said your team was six companies in four states?
Lecakes: Yes, sir, we are six companies located in four states.
Q: Where are the other locations? Your headquarters is up in Maryland, isn't it?
Lecakes: The battalion headquarters, HHC, Alpha and Bravo are located at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Edgewood area, Maryland. Delta Company is located at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Charlie Company is located at Dugway Proving Ground, and Echo Company is at Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas.
Next question. Go ahead.
Q: What type of decontamination equipment do you have? Do you have to bring big trailers to the battlefield to do that?
Lecakes: Actually, we have both. You need to understand that the name of the game for what we do is to be light and to be able to deploy on a moment's notice. However, we do have equipment that affords us to respond to a CAIRA, or a Chemical Accident Incident Response and Assistance scenario, which could involve one of the stockpiles, the eight stockpiles that stores chemical munitions in the continental United States. So we maintain both.
Q: So the portable capability, what does that look like?
Lecakes: Actually, we have a couple of different systems. We have an M-12, which the rest of the Army has. In addition to that, we have what we call a backpack sprayer, which is not something that is in the field Army because they need to deal in larger quantities than we do. It's important to remember that we maintain a very limited decon capability that is designed to decon ourselves, the item that we're sampling, and some -- and the resources or equipment we're using to do the sampling operation. And while we could probably do a couple of additional bodies, it's really not what the organization was designed to do.
Q: Can you talk about the ways in which some of your protective clothing and gear have or have not improved since, say, 1991? Has it gotten lighter, better, more efficient? Or are there still just some basic tools that you're still working with from that era that you wish you could improve upon?
Lecakes: I would tell you that if you look in terms of 1991, you were seeing the emergence of the Saratoga, which was a Marine Corps equivalent of JS LIST, and of course I can't remember the acronym, but I think it's Joint Service Integrated Lightweight Technology, which was a step up from the battle dress overgarment, which predates that.
Has there been a lot of advance? Since I've been in the Army, for 20-plus years, there have been advancements that have occurred over those 20 years. Have they been as fast as other advancements? I would tell you no. Had the risk been as great back then as it is today? I would tell you no.
We are seeing an awful lot of interest in the commercial sector, and we are benefiting from that because the technology now is being afforded to us. By being a one-of-a-kind organization that's a TDA and not a TO based structure, we are able to leverage the civilian sector and bring equipment into our unit quickly.
Q: Sir, you could explain a little bit your relationship, if any, with some of the other units that do somewhat generally the same thing? I know there are some civilian-type response teams --
Lecakes: Well, we absolutely love them.
Q: Aside from that, sir. And the Marines have something similar. And the Department of Energy has their NEST team. How do you relate with those --
Lecakes: Well, first of all, you need to understand that there are differences in the organizations. CBIRF, which is the Marine Corps' Chemical Biological --
Voice: Incident --
Lecakes: -- Incident Response Force, is different than TEU. If you were to --
(A participant faints, apparently due to heavy protective gear, and is assisted by colleagues.)
Why don't you guys go ahead and stand at ease, take it easy?
Edens: Unzip. Unzip.
Voice: (Off mike.)
Lecakes: Unzip. Yeah. Go ahead and cool off a little bit. Those lights are pretty hot.
One of the differences between us and CBIRF is the fact that if you look at the whole gamut of, say, a weapons of mass destruction incident, you've got a crisis response phase and you've got a consequence management piece. And the best way for me to describe the difference in the two of those today is, you've got an explosion that takes place or the dispersal of something that takes place, and that translates or transcends you from the crisis to the consequence. We are an organization that's designed to provide a capability on the crisis. We are there to prevent or preempt it from occurring.
The Marine Corps is an organization -- their CBIRF is an organization that's designed to provide a capability in response to the consequence phase of it. In other words, one big difference between us and them is we have no physical security capability. They have 121 personnel assigned to their organization that provide an MP or military police type of capability. In addition to that, they've got an organic medical capability. They would be the unit that you would call on to go down range if you had a lot of casualties and you needed to triage them. We don't have that.
The difference between us and the civil support teams, I would tell you, is what they were designed to do. They were designed to provide advice and assessment to their governor, and in the event that they needed to bring on board military organizations with additional capabilities, they would assist in receiving those assets.
Does that help?
Q: (Off mike.)
Q: What are the soldier requirements? And what characteristics physically and mentally would a soldier need to be a part of that unit?
Lecakes: Well, are you asking because you're interested or -- (laughter) --
Q: Yeah, because I'm a reporter.
Lecakes: Oh, okay. Well, we can use reporters.
There is no screening process, per se, for a soldier to come and be a part of TEU. However, we are -- we require enrollment in what is called the Personnel Reliability Program, which is associated with dealing with chemical surety material. As a result, you have to be in good standing in terms of your finance, in terms of your security clearance. So if you had any problems with that and they were caught before you got to us, it would turn you off. If once you -- you came on board, we uncover them in the process of leading you into the PRP program, we would contact DA and request that they move you.
Q: And I wanted to ask Captain Edens about the teddy bear. Could you just sort of give your personal story of that, and your reaction to helping the boy?
Edens: It was a nice capstone. We'd spent six months there. It was a very, very good wake-up call for the new team that was coming in, and a nice capstone for us. And of all the people that I'd hate to see hurt, of course, including myself or our men, it's a child, of course. But the -- we just happened to be at the right place at the right time with the right equipment. And it's -- like what Colonel Lecakes said, the incident happened so fast, and the training kicks in. And just like he'd spoken in the story, it'd been two years since I'd given in IV. It was a tremendous amount of pressure there at the moment. But it's just like any other Army training. As you execute, it all falls into place. And it was really a remarkable event. I was thankful to -- for that to have happened to me, and also for Staff Sergeant Dempsky (sp), who's still in Afghanistan right now. But it was remarkable. It was remarkable. The incredible spirit Rahim (sp) had to stay alive.
Q: Sir, can you give me a sense of how many soldiers you have actually in these units? Are we talking several hundred? And are you looking to expand that based on the demands of homeland security, and -- just increase? I mean, you guys are -- seem to be the cutting edge, but you don't seem to have too many soldiers here.
Lecakes: Well, I can't really get into the details in terms of the specific numbers of the organization. I can tell you that the Department of the Army has recognized the need for TEU. And as a result, they approved a force design update which will double our organization in its size by the end of FY04.
Q: Well, can you give us some scope? Are we talking several hundred, or --
Lecakes: Several hundred.
Q: Several hundred? Okay, you'll go from several hundred to double, whatever that is?
Lecakes: Yes. sir.
Q: Can I ask you one other quick one? If you have -- do you have a standing presence at the White House or with the Secret Service? I mean, are there actually people there on call all the time?
Lecakes: No, sir, we do not. But it's a good question. Had I been talking to you a year ago today, you would have seen just how engaged TEU was in our war on terrorism, from personnel deployed in support of the soldiers in the foxhole to the mail rooms of the Pentagon to the office suites in the Russell and Hart buildings to the White House complex and even in support of the Secret Service HAMMER teams that were providing support to the president and vice president of the United States. It's not something that we do on a regular basis, but we have done it.
Q: That force design update -- will it in increase the numbers specifically for homeland defense or for operations?
Lecakes: Well, that's the great thing about our unit -- is the fact that what we do transcends both wartime and the homeland. In other words, the capabilities that we possess cannot only service the combatant commander in times of war, but it services taking care of our homeland, which is probably why we were one organization that was in high demand after the horrific incidents of 9/11.
Q: Sir, could you tell me, since you do work for other government agencies at times, I understand, do you ever work with perhaps similar organizations that belong to other countries?
Lecakes: I would tell you, ma'am, I do not believe that there is any other organization within the world like TEU. I know that there are a lot of countries that are interested in standing up organizations of a similar capability. I know NATO is currently involved in standing up an organization that is similar to TEU.
Q: So could you be asked to go help another country?
Lecakes: Well, I couldn't, ma'am, but I'm sure that the federal government could. And whether or not they asked us to be a part of it is up to them.
Q: Have you ever done something to help another country?
Lecakes: Yes, ma'am.
Q: Could you expand upon that?
Lecakes: Actually, no, ma'am. Unfortunately, as the good major said, we are a support organization. That means that we provide a capability. We are not the owners of the missions that we go on. So in order to go into detail or to get information on that, you really would either have to talk to them or we'd have to go back and get authorization to talk about it.
Q: I wanted to go back to my soldier requirement question, because I see seniors NCOs and officers. Is there a required rank that you have to be? And is there, like, psychological testing that's done on these soldiers?
Lecakes: Well, that's a good point. I mean, our soldiers and civilians have to go through a very rigorous training process that takes about six months, and it costs about $60,000 for the initial and then $40,000 every year after to maintain it. If during that process any of them washes out of a course, then that would no longer afford them an opportunity to serve in our organization.
The reason that you don't notice anybody below the rank of E-5 is because there isn't any on our TDA. And if you really look at what we do and what we ask people to do, it really needs to be at the sergeant and above -- above grade.
Q: You're talking about your relationship with other organizations. There's a lot of EOD people in the military and civilian world. Would you EOD guys be called in only in cases where there's a suspicion that it's something other than a normal explosive?
Lecakes: Well, sir, that's what EOD and TEU exist for. We are the only other organization in the Army that has functioning EOD personnel in it. However, I'm sure that should an incident occur that requires more capability than resides in our conventional EOD, TEU could be asked, and would be prepared to go and support it.
Q: I came in late, so maybe you already did this, but have you walked through the different suits and their differences in the masks and so on?
Lecakes: No, but we can. And, Mack [Staff Sgt. McRoberts], why don't you take that one?
McRoberts: Okay. These suits right here are basically the same. This is a Hammer Suit, Saratoga. This is a JSLIST, it's just for tactical purposes. Of course, this is desert camouflage. They're lined with an active charcoal. They do let you breathe a little bit more than the Tyvek or the OSHA Level-A suit back here. These are more for -- this suit right here, fully encapsulated with supplied air -- it's for uncertain or unknown hazards, unknown chemical hazards, where potentially we wouldn't be afforded as much protection with filtration, so we have supplied air. And the Tyvek that Sergeant Jones is wearing underneath his bomb suit, can be used with supplied air or with a respirator, with a mask. It's a nonpermeable Tyvek, is what it is.
Q: So the suit with the supplied air, that would only be for some very specialized personnel, such as yourselves, who are coming to deal with a --
Lecakes: Actually, it involves a scenario. And, I know probably where your next questions, comments are going to go. So let me see if I can't head it off ahead of time.
You'll notice that we possess some of the clothing that you'll find in the regular Army. The difference, and the reason that we have additional clothing is differences in doctrine. The Army's doctrine is contamination-avoidance, so they are resourced in order to identify and then stay away from it. We, on the other hand, are asked to go in and sample and collect evidence. So therefore, we have additional protection.
The difference between a JSLIST and a Hammer Suit -- or correction, a JSLIST and a Hammer Suit and an OSHA Level A, which is fully encapsulated is, if we were entering into an environment that had a large concentration of an unknown, it affords us the greatest protection, and we would wear it.
Q: But the JSLIST or the Hammer Suit, which you say is the same thing, that is something that regular soldiers have issued?
McRoberts: This specific equipment you have to be trained on. You need to be familiar with its limitations as well as its protective capabilities. You normally only get about 45 minutes of air on this bottle, depending on how good of shape you are, your heart rate and breathing rate. And once you're in, of course, you're in. So you need to be able to -- you need to have time and experience in the suit in order to time yourself, to be able to do bottle change-out, or be able to go into the environment, execute what you have to execute, and then return out within the 45 minutes, because once the whistle goes off, you have to have air.
Q: Could I ask somebody, please, maybe who was deployed in Desert Storm, possibly, who wore the previous kind of suit and now has the JSLIST, to compare how they think those would be?
Lecakes: Well, I wasn't deployed in support of Afghanistan, but I've worn both suits.
Lecakes: And I can tell you that they both afford you the level of protection that's required. The differences are minor. JSLIST takes care of some advancements in technology that afford you a little bit of lengthened wear in terms of its use. I have the utmost confidence in both. I've been in live contamination or live environments in both, and they've afforded me the protection.
Q: But in terms of your ability to operate for periods of time in them --
Lecakes: I would tell you there's no difference.
Q: May I follow up on that? You said the "level of protection that's required." I would think that requirement would be no matter what sort of chemical or biological agent there might be, of whatever strength, you'd still be alive. Is that the level?
Lecakes: I would tell you we go out of our way in order to understand what it is that we're up against. And we design our equipment to cover that full gamut. Now, does the JSLIST or BDO or OSHA Level A protect against everything? I don't think anybody would be willing to stand up and say that. I would tell you, of the things that we know about, we are fully comfortable and confident -- and we've operated in those environments in this stuff -- and we believe it works.
Q: A couple of questions. Are all the several hundred members of the unit trained in that suit?
Lecakes: Well, like any organization, sir, there's a portion of that organization that's responsible for the admin and the logistics piece of it. I would tell you that that's a very small portion.
Q: So most of them would be trained in use of the suits. How many others in the military would be trained in the use of that suit?
Lecakes: Every soldier in the United States Army is trained in terms of the battle-dress over-garment or JSLIST. These additional outfits that you see on here, your CSTs, some of your medical community folks, of course every installation has a fire department, and those fire departments can operate in an OSHA Level A environment. So there's a number of organizations that have a capability.
Q: Are you trained in any radiological work?
Lecakes: Sir, the majority of our organization is made up of chemical officers and nuclear, biological and chemical NCOs. And as part of our training process, we are taught radiology or nuclear. It's not a focus of the unit, though. It's not our mission set.
Q: Do you have pre-scheduled live exercises that you do to keep up your skills? Would you participate in the Army war games in any way?
Lecakes: We have scheduled exercises that occur on a -- I shouldn't say this in front of these guys, because there's supposed to be no notice, but a recurring basis, that are designed to test these individuals. They go through a very rigorous validation and certification process before they go in the door. In other words, before they're ready to go out on a mission, I have to certify that organization that they're ready and that they can perform their mission.
Q: And the live exercises are full-scale, like in the field type --
Lecakes: Well, they vary, ma'am. I mean, some are in a live-agent environment. We periodically, a few times a year, go up to Canada and do live-agent training outside, which is in lethal concentrations, unlike what's done in the chamber out at Fort McClellan.
Q: An Afghanistan question, if anybody who was there can answer it. What types of objects did you take? Was a presumptive sample done? Can you give us a feel for that? We were hearing that al Qaeda had vials, jars or things were found -- presumptive samples. And then, how often did it come back from the United States confirmatory samples that, yeah, we had something?
Edens: Right. Well, that specific information you're going to have to go to Central Command to ask for. But, I will tell you that what we state here in our core capabilities -- liquid, soil, dry/wet samples across the gamut from knowns to unknowns that we took. But specific details and mission sets you'll have to check with Central Command.
Q: How about, did you go and just take samples from everything from caves to somewhat sophisticated laboratory settings or crude --
Edens: Again, those specific details, operational details, are controlled for a good reason by Central Command. You have to approach them.
I'd like to talk about confidence in our suits. I wanted to make sure that that was clear; that Staff Sergeant McRoberts and myself, Mike, have put our lives on the line in every single one of these garments. And I can tell you with 100 percent confidence that they will protect my life, his life and any other soldier that steps inside of them; there's no doubt whatsoever. So, I didn't want to leave that impression in anybody's mind.
Q: You work a lot with state and local governments. What kind of restrictions do you have on your cooperation with them, given the posse comitatus?
Lecakes: I would tell you that the restrictions we have are the same, regardless of who it is we work for or with. In order for a local or federal government to gain access or request our support, they've got to go through the Department of Defense and Department of the Army. So all of that, all those details in terms of what we can and can't do, are worked out at that level. And then a mission tasking comes down to us that says specifically what we will do.
Burwell: Any other questions?
Q: One more on equipment. There are some new technologies that are actually, I think, floating around this building: Portal Shields, BIDS and things like that, that as I understand it, really automate the process of trying to identify certain -- it doesn't identify everything, but it has a certain universe of things that it can identify pretty quickly. Now, what I understood you guys to say is that you have quick kits that in 15 minutes will give you a possible thing --
Lecakes: Well, there's different --
Q: -- why don't you have some of this automated?
Lecakes: Well, Portal Shield's not real portable.
Q: Right. No, understood. Understood.
Lecakes: That's the first thing.
Q: A lot of this stuff isn't -- (off mike).
Lecakes: And you need to understand we need to be able to do more mission on the go.
Lecakes: But the great thing -- and I'm glad you brought it up -- is the fact that those items come out of the U.S. Army Materiel Command -- more specifically, the Soldier and Biological Chemical Command, which is our higher headquarters. And it is that unique intermixing between us that affords us an opportunity to take that technology and get it into our hands quickly.
We do have a Portal Shield, by the way.
Q: But I mean, do you have small stuff that you can -- that would -- this 15-minute thing that you were describing sounded like -- is that sort of an equivalent capability to a BIDS thing, or do you need something like that?
Lecakes: Well, it's a little bit cruder than BIDS. It works on the same principle. I would tell you that, you know, you're sort of hitting on the bio side of the house, and unfortunately, technology just hasn't taken us where we need to be in order to do confirmatory analysis on the spot.
We have additional things, such as a DNA sequencer, that again provides us another means of a presumptive. But without growing that culture, it's really hard to say definitely that's what it is.
Edens: BIDS and also Portal Shield also use the bioassay ticket that we use as a backup, as confirmatory, for their mechanized system. So we're just using something that's portable, on the go, as a tactical standard, if you will.
Q: The difference between the JSLIST and the BDO -- I mean, you -- it was fairly blase. You made it -- it didn't seem like there was much a difference. Yet we've been hearing and seeing in congressional testimony that these suits are so much better than BDOs. Can you give us some degree of improvement here?
Lecakes: Well, let me make sure I didn't say something wrong. What I mean to say was that both afford you the level of protection that's required. Okay?
Lecakes: Where they differ is in terms of the number of times one can be laundered over the other.
Q: This can be laundered what, four or five times, or twice?
Lecakes: The JSLIST is six times, I believe.
McRoberts: That is correct.
Lecakes: And I would tell you, sir, that there's also a Web page where that information is readily available over the Internet, if you want to check it, just to make sure I'm right.
Q: But this is lighter, though, isn't? It can be --
Lecakes: It is lighter. I mean, it's probably like comparing the lightweight BDU, battle dress uniform, which I'm wearing, with the winter dress.
McRoberts: (Off mike) -- more user-friendly as well.
McRoberts: But I would tell you -- I would say it's more user-friendly for the wear. There's certain things about -- small improvements -- like he said, the extended shelf life, the extended wash and wear. But some of these have hoods, as you can see. The BDOs didn't have that. Just small improvements. But like the colonel said, it does offer similar protection ability.
Q: A lot of these questions are hinted on Iraq, obviously -- does it allow you to fight in April, May and June more hours in that suit than in a BDO, or more minutes?
McRoberts: It would go back to personal conditioning. But I've worn them both, and this suit is lighter. It is cooler
Lecakes: I think that takes you back to the fundamentals. You need to understand that a nuclear, biological or chemical situation really represents a different environment. The same tasks that you do in a clean environment would have to be done in a dirty. So just as we train in order to own the night and to be proficient in our skill sets when it's dark, we spend a portion of that training to ensure that we can operate in a dirty environment. Should we know that we are going to go to war with somebody that might require that, I'm sure that the focus would be put into ensuring our people become acclimated with the uniform.
Burwell: Last question. If that's it, these folks will be available to speak to personally, if you like, one on one. So we thank you for coming, and again appreciate it.