Utah is one of a dozen states where new, federally funded weapons of mass destruction response teams will be set up, the U.S. Department of Defense announced Tuesday.

Each of the WMD Civil Support Teams will consist of 22 full-time members of the Army and Air National Guard trained to help local, state and federal officials respond to biological, nuclear, chemical or radiological incidents.

"This is a 'good news' story. This is something we have worked for behind the scenes for three years," said Major Gen. Brian Tarbet, adjutant general of the Utah National Guard. "We're just thrilled to get this."

There are already 32 such teams located around the country, but Utah had only a largely part-time group of National Guard soldiers handling the job. Teams from other states had to be called in for the 2002 Winter Games.

Tarbet said even before the Olympics, the state was lobbying for its own full-time team because of the many potential targets here. "We have huge defense facilities here," the general said, including chemical weapons testing facilities at Dugway Proving Ground.

But Utah didn't make the U.S. Department of Defense's list until Tuesday, when the state was selected along with Connecticut, New Jersey, North Carolina, Indiana, Wisconsin, Maryland, Oregon, Mississippi, Nevada, Nebraska and Rhode Island.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said it made "a tremendous amount of sense" for the Defense Department to choose Utah because of the state's geographic location as well as the chemical munitions and biological agents stored here.

"I am pleased that Utah has been given one of these highly sought-after specialized teams which will be available to help our local law enforcement agencies respond in the future to any terrorist attacks or threats in the Intermountain Region," Bishop said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said, "Utahns are safer and more secure as a result of this new Civil Support Team — both in terms of deterring an attack upon our citizens and in effectively responding to an act of terrorism."

Tarbet said Utah has two years to put together its new team, which could include some soldiers currently deployed to Iraq.

"I don't think we're going to have much trouble," he said, despite the extensive training and equipment needed.


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