Food & Wine, and radiation monitoring

by Chad Abraham, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Military team present during large events monitors for chemical, biological and radiological agents

If, during the upcoming Food & Wine Classic or USA Pro Challenge bike race, a man or a woman wearing street clothes and a backpack asks you if you’ve recently had a medical procedure, don’t be alarmed.

For the past four years, a joint U.S. Air Force-Army team has set up monitoring stations around Aspen during upper-valley events that draw large crowds.

Members of the civil-support unit look for traces of chemical, biological and radiological agents, the latter of which can indicate the presence of a dirty bomb. The military squad is known by the initials CBRN, for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense.

Duxton Milam, a former member of the team who recently joined the Aspen Police Department, said he became acquainted with local law enforcement during assignments here.

In past years, the team has been here for Food & Wine, the X Games and the bike race.

The reason for the unusual question is that certain medical procedures can trigger a positive signal for a radioactive isotope on team members’ monitoring devices, Milam said.

“We’d come up to you and say, ‘Hey, did you just have a procedure?’” he said.

If the person said they did indeed recently have surgery, they are given a pin so other CBRN members will know and won’t question them further. It’s a free service provided at the request of local authorities, Milam said.

He declined to say how many monitoring stations are set up during a large-scale event. Efforts to reach a press-information officer were unsuccessful.

Ron Ryan, Pitkin County’s undersheriff, said the military presence also aids the multi-jurisdictional local emergency management team, as the CBRN brings with it a massive mobile-communications vehicle that’s used at the incident-command site. The communications factor, and not terrorism fears, is how the county’s relationship with the team started, Ryan said.

Like Milam, he was reticent to say much about how the team operates.

“We don’t go into the details of that, especially after the Boston bombing,” Ryan said.

With large-scale tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing in mind, the military “had other resources that we could tap into,” he said. “They’re not [here] in a law enforcement capacity, but they give us certain resources.”

While Ryan said there is no local cause of concern that prompted the CBRN team’s presence, “we like to be ready,” he said. “It’s our job to worry about it. … We’re looking out for even unlikely threats.”