COLUMBIA — A big part of Christopher Lemley's job with the Missouri National Guard is dealing with potential threats from weapons of mass destruction, including anthrax, dangerous chemicals and methamphetamine.
Lemley, a 10-year member of the active Missouri National Guard, took the command position of first sergeant with the Guard's 7th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team in early April. Before joining the Guard, he served eight years in the Army.
The Jefferson City-based team assesses and responds to potential and known terrorist threats. The 22-person team, which includes members of the Army and Air national guards, also advises and assists local emergency responders in events related to weapons of mass destruction. These are often anthrax scares, incidents involving mysterious chemicals or mass illnesses. Recently, the team investigated a "white powder incident" in Rolla. Authorities suspected the powder might be anthrax, but the substance turned out to be benign.
Sometimes, the team is called when an unusual meth lab is found.
"Law enforcement will serve warrants on the perpetrators," Lemley said. "But they may back out at that point and have us come investigate to see if what they're making is meth or something else."
The 7th Civil Support Team trains for actual events through practice exercises modeled after real emergencies.
"We conduct training exercises at least once a month, generally twice a month where our members will set up a makeshift lab," Lemley said. "We go through it as if it was an actual event."
During these practices, the team member who set up the exercise will interject with information to help the team determine its next move.
"We go on trying to solve the puzzle," he said.
The most recent exercise Lemley participated in was in March, when the team went to Kansas City for a fictional bomb threat. The practice took place in an underground area occupied by businesses and empty lots.
"One of the empty lots was utilized by a gentleman experimenting with multiple chemicals to create something bad," Lemley said of the training scenario. "We were called to identify all the chemicals to figure out what he was making."
Lemley said one goal of his as first sergeant is to have more local emergency responders train with his support team. That way, if an actual event occurs, it won't be the first time local responders will have worked with the team.
"If we're going to schedule an event or exercise, we would love to have local communities have their first responders come train with us," he said.
Lemley began work in the 7th Civil Support Team as the information management noncommissioned officer in charge of communications. He then became the noncommissioned officer in charge of operations. Lemley won the first sergeant position because of his leadership skills and versatile experience on the team, Lt. Col. Raymond White said in a Missouri National Guard news release.
Although Lemley received a promotion in job title, rank advancement won't occur until he finishes different levels of training. That could could take up to a year, unit spokesman Matthew Wilson said. Lemley first must complete training to become a master sergeant, which will result in a pay increase. Further training, including a two-week first sergeant resident course in Texas, will officially advance him to the rank of first sergeant.