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Interview With Ray Ippolito, Jeff Allen

Aired October 27, 2001 - 09:36   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Who would have ever imagined that chemical and biological warfare would be the next form of terror to strike America?

One specialized military unit knew it wasn't a matter of if but when. And now daily training is being put into real-life action. And if the headlines on bio and chem destruction are scaring you, this story on the National Guard's Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team can make you sleep just a little better tonight.


(voice-over): At this moment, time stands still. Life is normal. But within seconds, time flies. And life in this city will never be the same.

This is a training mission, but the threat is very real.

MAJ. JEFF ALLEN, U.S. ARMY: You know, soldiers, you know, we're hurt by this. You know, we're very emotional, that if -- that this happened in our country. And we're going to make sure it doesn't happen again.

PHILLIPS: You're about to meet the National Guard's Fourth Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team.

Imagine Turner Field. It's 6:00 p.m. The stadium is full, and fans are engaged in baseball mania. But it's not the crack of the bat that will cause chaos in this crowd, but rather the sound of a siren.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We only had four casualties so far.

PHILLIPS: Deaths reported, and hundreds of other people are unable to breathe. In this simulated operation, chemical warfare has struck Atlanta, Georgia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any station, any station. This is five-zero.

PHILLIPS: The unified command suite sets up communication capabilities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five-two-zero, this is two-four.

PHILLIPS: Secured lines are made to the president, hospitals, and other major emergency centers.


PHILLIPS: And this survey team is airborne to save lives.

Formerly from the Special Operations community, these soldiers now specialize in chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, intellectual warriors on a mission to mitigate a deadly disaster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zero-five-two-one.

PHILLIPS: Sergeant First Class Ray Ippolito leads his team via military gator (ph) to the warm zone. Chemical protective garments will protect these men from life-threatening vapor and splash. The deadly chemical is coming from this garbage can just inside the stadium gates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (inaudible)...

PHILLIPS: With dragger (ph) tubes and five separate instruments, swab, liquid, and air samples are collected and analyzed. But before anything goes to the lab, every soldier is decontaminated.

So what deadly agent has been released?

MAJ. PATTY PETTIS, U.S. ARMY: I received the sample.

PHILLIPS: In this guarded mobile lab on site...

PETTIS: This is the reagent that I'm going to use.

PHILLIPS: ... Major Patty Pettis (ph) analyzes the evidence sample.

PETTIS: I have two lines which indicate the positive.

PHILLIPS: And narrows down what the chemical threat is.

PETTIS: Right now, what we're seeing are peaks that are consistent with sarin or G.V. (ph).

PHILLIPS: Within minutes, a positive hit for sarin, a deadly nerve agent.

ALLEN: I spent a lot of hours at work, and I spent a lot of sleepless hours also worrying about, have I done my job to train my soldiers to operate? You know, my responsibility is to make sure they go home at night.

PHILLIPS: Today's mission is over. The terrorist attacks are not.

SGT. 1ST CLASS RAY IPPOLITO, U.S. ARMY: The first round they got us, and we weren't ready for it. But I do know that the second time, we will be ready for it. Because like President Bush said, you know, "We will not tire, we will not falter, we will not fail." Don't upset the American soldier.

PHILLIPS: And this team's battle against biological and chemical terror has just begun.


PHILLIPS: And Major Jeff Allen and Sergeant First Class Ray Ippolito join us now live. Thank you, gentlemen, so much.

IPPOLITO: Morning.

ALLEN: Good morning, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: I got to tell you, I'm breathing a little easier this morning after being with you guys for a few days.

ALLEN: Well, thank you.

PHILLIPS: Let's talk about the background of the unit and how it actual -- actually got started.

ALLEN: The unit, you know, during the Clinton administration, there was a book that President Clinton read. It was called "Cobra Event." And he read that book, and he began asking questions, Do we have any units out there that could handle this type of a lone wolf terrorist? And I believe the answer was no.

So -- excuse me -- the Department of Defense in 1988 formed or commissioned the Tiger Team, which was a panel of experts that went out there and made the decisions to stand up these type teams.

PHILLIPS: And your background, Sergeant Ippolito, goes all the way back to the Gulf War.

IPPOLITO: Yes, ma'am.

PHILLIPS: You were part of the task force 160th (ph) that specialized in combating the biological and chemical and nuclear warfare, correct? Tell me what exactly you did and what the soldiers do now.

IPPOLITO: Well, I can't tell you about the missions they went on, but I can tell you that that type of soldier that's over there right now, and they're professional, determined, and focused. And these terrorists need to understand that these soldiers will not quit. If they think that the soldiers attitude will change because of weather or terrain, they're sadly mistaken. They can't hide, and they will be found.

PHILLIPS: And you know that team very well, because you were part of it over there. How do you feel about the intel and the fact that they are keeping on top of all these threat countries and the agents that may be stockpiling there?

IPPOLITO: They'll be fine on that portion, ma'am. They know everything that's going on there, and I don't think they're worried about anything.

PHILLIPS: Now you're a part of this team, with Major Allen, 22 members, 14 different specialties. Tell me the type of people we have in the intellectual warrior. Talk a little bit more about that.

ALLEN: We have individuals that have degrees in chemistry, PhDs in microbiology, we have medical doctors, nurse practitioners. We have folks that are trained in any type of communications equipment that we would need in order to execute our mission. They're highly -- excuse me there -- they're highly trained individuals. Some of them come out of the Special Forces community. Everybody is cross-trained to do more than one job on that team.

PHILLIPS: And one of the hand-picked individuals, of course, is Sergeant Ippolito. What kind of training did you go through when you got to be a part of this team? You did a lot of different schooling and traveling, right?

IPPOLITO: Last year I spent 260 days in school. And it ranges from classes in chem, bio, radiological. I mean, when you go to a school that deals with DNA, I mean, you're getting real good training.

PHILLIPS: And you've got live agents, right? Didn't these guys deal with live...

ALLEN: Right. All these soldiers on all the weapons of mass destruction teams, and there's 10 of them out there right now that are certified, with 17 more coming online in a very short period of time. They've all been out to a facility out in the West, Dugway Proving Grounds, where we've actually worked with live biological and chemical agents. And the equipment that you saw on that piece there has all been exposed to biological and chemical agents, and it works very well.

IPPOLITO: All our soldiers know what they work with and what they might see downrange, and they're more than happy to do it. It's kind of weird if you talk, if you think about it, but they're more than happy to do it. They can't wait to put on Level A and go downrange.

ALLEN: Well, the reason for that is, why they're so comfortable working in that environment, is the fact that they are technically and tactically confident, and they don't show any fears, because they know how to address the issues, the signs and symptoms, if they do become contaminated. And we have the drugs with us at all times, the atropine for nerve agent and the Cipro to treat our soldiers.

PHILLIPS: Now, all of us, we were all talking about this last week, but personally, I mean, this is something that has hit on our homeland, so there's sort of a different approach, I guess, I could say maybe that you're taking mentally. You were mentioning that it's -- you take it more personally when it happens on your homeland, right?

ALLEN: Oh, definitely.

IPPOLITO: It's quite upsetting.

ALLEN: I don't know a soldier out there that hasn't taken this, this war, personally, especially when you start attacking our citizens. In the military, we can understand us being targeted as military personnel, but when you attack the World Trade Center, innocent civilians, then you've really upset the American soldier.

IPPOLITO: That's true.

ALLEN: But the real -- some of the real heroes out there that I want to mention are those firefighters at the World Trade Center that were going up those stairs while the other folks were coming down. Those are the true heroes in this war.

PHILLIPS: And I know the firefighters work very closely with you guys too.

IPPOLITO: Yes, ma'am.

ALLEN: We spend a lot of time when them, with the first responders. And that's our job. These teams were stood up to support civil authority. The Guard has been military support to civil authorities. We've been doing this mission for a long time, hurricanes, floods, domestic disturbances.

So that's one of the reasons why the Guard was given this mission of homeland defense, because, you know, we're here stationed in Georgia, we're responsible for FEMA Region 4, which encompasses eight states. And we work hand in hand with first responders. We never take charge of a scene. The incident commander could be a police chief, a fire chief, the mayor of a city. Our job is to advise, assess, and facilitate, and that's exactly what we do.

PHILLIPS: Major Jeff Allen, Sergeant First Class Ray Ippolito, thank you very much, gentlemen.

IPPOLITO: Thank you.

ALLEN: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: All right.




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