Hinga talks about Weapons of Mass Destruction

Published 12:10 am Saturday, April 5, 2003

By By MARCIA STEFFENS / Cassopolis Vigilant
EDWARDSBURG -- While our troops in Iraq keep their gas masks strapped to their knees and wear their chemical suits, here in Michigan there are also worries about Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Major Clark Hinga, the Deputy Commander, 51st Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team was the guest speaker at the annual Cass County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner Saturday night at the American Legion in Edwardsburg.
It is comforting to know that a highly trained team is close by in Battle Creek, through the efforts of our U.S. Congressman Fred Upton. Presently teams are in 32 states, with Michigan's team having the closest response time to Chicago, Ill., should our governor approved the full time National Guard team be sent there in an emergency.
The purpose of the team, Major Hinga explained, is to support the local first responders, such as the police, firemen and sheriff's deputies -- not to take over their jobs.
The team of 22 Army and Michigan Air personnel are divided into specialized areas including medical, administrative, operations, survey and command and control. The lowest amount of hours is 400, with many already trained with 1,000 to 1,200 classroom hours.
Their gear will take them into a contaminated area and the equipment they carry can make quick determination as to what gas or powder they are dealing with. Analysis can be made in an hour or less -- whether "the white powder is anthrax or Dr. Scholl's foot powder."
Their training involves working in special suits with many layers of rubber gloves, still being about to turn screws and obtain samples.
What they are not, Hinga said, are the first ones on the scene, or long term, bomb disposal or able to do mass decontamination. The team also does not leave the United States. Presently there isn't a team in Wisconsin or Indiana. Eventually though, Upton said, there will be team in every state and two in California and Texas, due to their size.