With Dolphin Stadium in the background, Commander of the 44th Civil Support Team Lt. Col. William Spengler (right) briefs Assistant Adjutant General of the Florida Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Michael Fleming on National Guard operations in support of Super Bowl XLI in Miami. The 44th CST is working in conjunction with other local and federal agencies as part of the massive security effort for Sunday's Super Bowl. Photo by Staff Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
By Fred W. Baker III
WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2007 - Tens of thousands of football fans will flock to Florida this weekend, passionate about their pigskin picks, but a handful of Florida Guardsmen are hoping that the game is anything but exciting for them.
The 44th Civil Support Team, based at the Camp Blanding Joint Training Center near Starke, Fla., has been tapped to be at the game working with the Miami-Dade Police Department bomb squad, the FBI and other local, state and federal agencies.
The joint 22-person team has the equipment and expertise to identify chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive agents or substances, and they are trained to help incident commanders on site figure out what to do in the event of such an attack or disaster.
But fans shouldn't expect to see soldiers and airmen walking around the venues in chemical suits collecting samples, said Air Force Lt. Col. Ron Tittle, Florida National Guard public affairs officer.
"For the most part, fans won't even know they are there. But they will be there ready to respond in direct support of our emergency responders," he said.
The team is equipped with state-of-the-art substance identification and detection equipment, a mobile laboratory system, and a secure digital satellite communications system designed to connect with any agency around the world. The team and its equipment are completely self-contained and can be airlifted to disaster areas if needed.
This isn't the team's first trip to a Super Bowl, Tittle said. It provided support during Super Bowl XXXIX at Jacksonville, Fla., on Feb. 6, 2005.
The team also has supported international conferences and other events within Florida, Tittle said. The team regularly trains with other agencies throughout the state, and cooperative exercises hone the team members' highly specialized skills. This also helps establish working relationships with the agencies and personnel they would support in the event of an emergency.
"That's one thing that our team has been working to do, ... to reach out and work with those other agencies so you already have a good sense of teamwork established," Tittle said. "They continue to have exercises ... to maintain those ongoing relationships. Our team is constantly attending functions in ongoing support roles throughout the state. Our team has worked with pretty much every county in Florida."
The team has responded to two real-life situations: an Anthrax scare in Boca Raton in 2001 and a joint investigation with the Coast Guard responding to suspicious cargo on a ship.
To prepare for the Super Bowl, the team has been plugged into the planning process for the past eight months and is now fully integrated into the multi-agency response plans, said Army Lt. Col. Russ Spengler, the team's commander.
He said his team welcomes the opportunity to work on an event of this scale.
"This is a great opportunity for our soldiers and airmen to work with other talented experts from various agencies. The level of cooperation is outstanding. It really makes you proud to see the efforts of so many to protect this event," Spengler said.
The 44th Civil Support Team was fielded in August 2000. The National Guard's civil support team program has 55 teams located in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. Florida and California are the only two states with two civil support teams.
Team members acquire as much as 800 hours of initial training above their military occupational skill qualification or professional military education requirements.
Super Bowl XLI on Feb. 4 promises to bring in thousands of fans. Grammy award winner Billy Joel will sing the national anthem, and Prince will perform at halftime. Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens will seat 70,000 for the game, and thousands more are expected for the pre-game activities.
The Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region is stepping up its air patrols in the Miami-Dade area to increase security during Super Bowl XLI activities, officials said. NORAD has provided air defense support for every Super Bowl since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Spectators will see Air Force fighter jets flying over Dolphin Stadium during pre-game events and in the local area during the game.
The Super Bowl is annually the nation's highest-rated TV program. More than 141 million viewers watched the 2006 game in the United States. Super Bowl XLI will be broadcast to a potential worldwide audience of 1 billion in more than 230 countries and territories, according to the official Super Bowl Web site.
The Chicago Bears are back in the Super Bowl for first time since winning Super Bowl XX in January 1986. The Indianapolis Colts will make a Super Bowl appearance for the first time for the franchise since the Baltimore Colts won Super Bowl V in January 1971.