BANGOR, Maine — The passenger door of a sedan parked in the corner of the parking lot adjacent to Husson University’s athletic center was wide open, revealing a threatening note and white powder sprinkled on the interior.
Much of the rest of the lot was dominated by Maine Army National Guard trucks, trailers and tents as the Guard’s 11th Civil Support team out of Waterville had turned the area into a makeshift command center to deal with a possible weapons of mass destruction threat.
Another terrorist attack? No, this was a very detailed WMD scenario created by Guard officers to provide the ultimate class exercise for 14 Husson graduate students — four from Portland — to work side by side with Guard personnel to investigate, analyze and neutralize a potential biological agent threat.
“What we’ve done is set up a real-time, anthrax/white powder scenario in which a VIP was lecturing here at Husson and found this in his car,” said Maj. Darryl Lyon, the commander of the team which drove up from Waterville with a full complement of technical equipment for Tuesday night’s event. “This is a small-scale exercise for us.”
But it’s a big deal for Husson and the CJ 799 — current issues in criminal justice — class.
“This is the first time we’ve ever had a full-scale exercise to this extent on campus,” said Cornel Plebani, assistant professor at Husson. “Darryl and I are close friends and have been talking about issues like this for years. This is not only experiential learning for the students, but also more awareness for the things that exist to protect our citizenry.”
It’s more than just an exercise and lesson for the students, however.
“We do exercises for chemical, explosive, nuclear, biological and radiological attacks monthly,” said Lyon, a former University of Maine assistant professor of military science. “Basically, as evil as we can think, we try to train for it. We know what we’re doing is preventing bad guys from doing bad things, and there’s a lot of satisfaction from making a difference.”
About the only thing that’s not real at exercises like Tuesday night’s is the threat.
“This is an opportunity civilians don’t get,” said Plebani.
Lyon, a 23-year serviceman who spent four years of active duty with the U.S. Navy and the last 19 in the Guard, said some aspects of these exercises are secret.
“There will be some things we don’t want covered in detail by the press, like our sampling procedures, because if they knew what they were they could try to come up with ways to get around them,” he explained.
“This is the first exercise of its kind because it actually gives the students a chance to work directly with the soldiers and airmen of the team,” Lyon said.
Lyon said his team originated through the efforts of former U.S. Senator Bill Cohen of Bangor.
“Back in the mid-1990s, Bill Cohen was studying the Middle East and analyzing Israel,” Lyon explained. “He predicted that because of the way terrorists were attacking Israel, they would try to export those same techniques into the West, and when he became Secretary of Defense, he told that to President Clinton and in 1999, they started creating these teams.”
Lyon said the original total of 10 teams in the country went to one in each state and U.S. territory after the anthrax scares in 2001.