Run Forrest! Run!

During the summer of 2006 I was a Company Gunny with the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force out of Indian Head, Maryland. Uh, you say? What in the world does a CBIRF do?

 When directed, forward-deploy and/or respond to a credible threat of a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, or High Yield explosive (CBRNE) incident in order to assist local, state, or federal agencies and Unified Combat Commanders in the conduct of consequence management operations. CBIRF accomplishes this mission by providing capabilities for agent detection and identification; casualty search, rescue, and personnel decontamination; and emergency medical care and stabilization of contaminated personnel.

Those of you familiar with military Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) used in chem/bio environments know how much fun it is.  Annual training for CBRN (NBC for you old timers) in regular units is generally considered an inconvenience at best and looked upon with dread for those who must endure it.

Your average MOPP suit (Military Overgarment Personal Protective, I think) consists of a charcoal filter snow suit, rubber boots, field protective mask,  and rubber gloves. Whatever the current temperature is it’s about 10 degrees hotter in the suit. The normal overgarments are permeable, meaning things can eventually pass through the suit like air and liquids. By the end of any training scenario Marines are basically wrapped in a giant wet sponge.  

In CBIRF we had even higher levels of protection. The MOPP overgarment and field protective mask were level C if memory serves. There were also levels B and A. The higher the level the suckier it was to endure. Level A involved strapping on a Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) followed by climbing into a level A impermeable space suit like you see in all the outbreak/contagion type movies.  This super duper protective garment would bring out unbridled hatred in the Dali Lama. Nothing gets in sure. Nothing gets out either. The arms and legs of the suit pool with sweat. The face shield fogs with condensation that constantly needs to be wiped off in order to see. All dexterity is lost moving about in a large crinkling mass of plastic and tape. It’s pretty much like wading around in a private hermetically sealed swamp.

Marines enjoying Level B protective gear. Bracing!

Of course, if you have a mission and no one knows who you are they’ll never call you.  We always ensured CBIRF ninjas attended CBRNE conferences throughout the beltway as well as conducted cool demonstrations and static displays of our high speed equipment whenever possible.

A decontamination line.

 August of that year a blistering heatwave hit the nation. The height of the rising temperature occurred during a large multi-agency CBRNE conference held in a grass field in front of the chapel in Quantico, VA.  Various agencies were in attendance showing off their individual capabilities and gear. All sorts of command and control vehicles were on display as well as gadgetry of both the bang and zoom variety.

Representatives from each organization gave a brief on their capability to respond to a crisis armed with whiz bang technology and the heroics of their operators. Toward the end of the afternoon our Operations Officer, a Major, got up and described what CBIRF does. Up until then we had nothing on display and only a few Marines present. The Major briefed CBIRF essentially didn’t have anything much different to offer in capability or equipment than anyone else. There was one thing CBIRF did deliver which no one else could. This was  over 200 U.S. Marines ready to respond and do whatever was needed of them. As the crowd rolled their eyes and gave him the “yeah, show me” look, he pointed over their heads and said: “As a matter of fact, here they come now.”

Right on que the crowd turned to look  as two helicopters from HMX-1 thundered overhead carrying Alpha Company’s “light” package over the treetops. We banked and landed in the field, the tails of the helos facing the stunned onlookers. When the ramps came down we sprinted off the birds with all our gear and mummified in full chem/bio regalia.

CBIRF ninjas disembark HMX-1 birds.

With temperatures reaching 115 degrees that day the Marines sprinted a couple hundred meters to set up their static displays for each section: Reconnaissance, Decontamination, Rescue, Extract, Medical, HQ. Later one of my buddies in the crowd remarked the onlookers were shocked. A Soldier standing behind him kept blurting in disbelief: “They’re running in full PPE! They’re running in full PPE!” That’s right nancy, we were running with full PPE in 115 degree heat. We call it training like you fight.

Medical Corpsmen haul in their gear.

In a matter of minutes the static displays were set up with all the Marines and Sailors standing at parade rest still in full esamble. When the command “all clear, unmask” was given, everyone removed their helmets and protective masks to the applause of the now convinced crowd. 

Everyone pictured here is ankle deep in their own perspiration.

The rest of the afternoon CBIRF Marines showed off their gear to interested onlookers as I rotated them out for water and to change into a dry uniform.

Just another ho-hum day giving the American public their money’s worth with the world’s finest United States Marines.

Semper Fidelis!
America’s SgtMaj

/ / / /


  1. SGM, In all my Army days, I tried to avoid doing any kind of MOPP training…. Arrgggggg..who made up that stuff?
    Then, when I got back from Bosnia, the Police Dept I worked for thought it’d be great to send me to training to be a police instructor in that stuff…..the days we put on the gear and ran around, climbing ladders, pulling dummies and trying to do “cop stuff” it was over 90 F outside….it sucked.

  2. Oh, thanks for the memories… NOT!!

    I got tagged to go to NBC Survey Monitoring School in Okinawa way back when.

    Final exercise was in the charcoal suits plus heavy rubber over-suit. It was the old black rubber suit. Gloves and booties, taped around wrist and ankles, and the mask, of course.

    No breathing assist. Just the ol’ mask.

    10 mile forced march.

    Ladies and gents, a bit more description on that one throw away line of the A1SGM’s.

    Your the gloves and sleaves of your arms actually fill up with sweat until the suit is rigid from the elbows down. Same with boots and pantlegs up to mid calf.

    All of it sweat. A good few pounds of sweat in each arm and each leg.

    Raise your arms above your shoulders and it floods down your sides and pools even deeper in your legs.

    Now, we had canteens, but this is the Corps we’re talking about. Sooooo… of course there was a shortage of canteen caps designed to attach to the drinking straw/gizmo in the gasmasks. So, most of us had no access to water, unless we wanted to fail the course by removing our masks on this 10 mile hump in the tropics in the summer.

    Oh, and the mask… what a joy. What a confidence builder that exercise was.

    The mask, once it fills up with sweat, which it will, on a forced march, in the tropics, in the summer…

    The intake valves for the breath you’d like to draw in stick. So, you have to draw that breath so hard the mask vacuum collapses to your face and your ears pop.

    The outflow valve also stuck. So, exhaling required some force of its own, and your exhaust breath actually pushed the mask away from your face and the breath pushed out along the edge of the mask and filled the rubber hood on your head.

    But, on the plus side, there was a rather decent puddle of sweat at the bottom of the mask which made i possible to at least drink something.

    Didn’t have much of a problem with the glass in the eye holes fogging up. Part of the intake breath was diverted to ducts that led to slots in the rubber of the mask just below the glass pieces. This was meant to provide a clearing flow of fresh air to keep the glass clear. In our case, since the slots were filled with sweat, it provided a bubbling wash over the glass pieces.

    I still hate the Russians and all commiescum for making me have to go through that.


  3. 1. Due to an unfortunate choice of college degree, was tagged as NBC Officer in every unit I was ever in (NBC NCO before that).
    2. At Camp Hansen, had to sign for a warehouse full of NBC gear. Dug my feet in and insisted on an inventory.
    3. Lots of stuff missing. Wasn’t thanked for the ensuing ruckus.
    4. Decided to set up NBC exercise with my company. Was around the time of NVN Cambodian invasion and border fights with China. Yellow Rain stuff talked about.
    5. Had to get permission from HQMC and NAVSEAS to break out enough suits to equip my company (about 160 odd).
    6. Decontamination machine (hot water apparatus) didn’t work. Borrowed adjacent BN’s. That didn’t work either.
    7. Borrowed the Engineer BN’s -which had been in regular use providing hot showers in the field.
    8. Brought the company in from NTA (by Helo)in full MOPP status, and proceesed through textbook decon station using GP tents and whatnot.
    9. After the exercise was completed, got bitched at because the troops went unclothed from the shower tent to another to get dressed.
    10. One of the 10 WM’s on post might have seen them from 300 yds away and got offended.
    11. My failure to take whining about this seriously was another nail in my career coffin.
    V/R JWest

  4. CI Roller, there is no scenario where NBC/CBRNE/MOPP level anything does not suck. This is why no one wants to do it, ever. I suspect some folks would rather take a lung full of chlorine gas than do the training.

    Lin, I don’t know. Everyone talks about conducting mission in chem environments but I think the truth is you operate in the gear long enough to leave the contaminated area.

    Grimmy, NBC tasks in Oki, been there. When I was in 3d Recon we actually did a SPIE rig in MOPP 4.

    JWest, my favorite thing to do is watch people’s expression when you tell them the decon solution is nothing but hot soapy water.

  5. I’m constantly amazed when I read about your training that there aren’t daily news stories about Marines dying from heat stroke. You guys are seriously tough and acclimated in a way I can’t even begin to comprehend. Of course, the fact that I’ve spent most of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area, complete with its natural air conditioning, is a lousy way to prepare anyone for temperature extremes.

    As always when I read your posts, SGM, I’m impressed, very, very impressed by what y’all do. (I can say y’all because I also lived in Texas, which was my one experience with extreme heat. I had an old car, with plastic seats and no air conditioning, and I did once cook an egg on the seat.)

  6. A’s SGM:

    I’m sure what you posted in your reply was about as understated, concerning the “fun and frolic” of the training as a WW2 USMC infantry vet of Iwo saying “I shot at the enemy a time or two.”

    Never was Recon, but I’d seen them train. Scary.


  7. Book, make no mistake, heat casualties are a big deal as in the past there have been deaths related to injuries. Pushing water and leaning on our small unit leaders to ensure their Marines are well fed, rested, and hydrated is paramount when doing this kind of thing. The only heat casualty I recall having during my time with CBIRF was a young Marine who ate desserts for three meals straight before suiting up and going downrange. He didn’t last long and I crushed his soul for his idiocy.

    Grimmy, though I certainly don’t suffer from any self esteem issues, I find outright boasting somewhat classless. I also usually point out I was not a Reconnaissance Marine but I did op and training in the S-3 as well as NBC Chief.

    Jerry, cool! Thanks!

  8. “I find outright boasting somewhat classless.”


    You didn’t start out Marine life as an 03XX did you?

    In that part of the Corps, outright boasting is considered an art form that must be mastered.

    Hell, I’m pretty sure that a Marine’s Outright Boasting score has a fair heavy impact on a grunt’s promo from PFC to L/Cpl.


  9. Level “A” Suit, Body bag with a window. That brings back some long repressed memories. As a FF and Haz mat we had to train in them all the time and after 9/11 I went to WMD school to train in the MOPP gear with live VX and GB. 15 min in the suit and it was bad. Can not imagine doing combat evolution’s in it!

  10. “We call it training like you fight.” Interesting you used this phrase. It’s one of my favorites, only I substitute “fight” with other words like “play” (sports) As far as the rest… sounds like the Corps to me.

  11. Grimmy, In the context of my writing, I figure it’s inferred I am awesome without actually having to say it. My style is to imply greatness without going so far as to say: LOOK AT ME! Is that better?

    Mark, nothing like live agent training! I suspect a actual combat situation involving chem agents would go like this: “Put your crap on and let’s get out of here!”

    Kristina, only difference is on game day losing in a CBRNE situation can be rather disastrous.

  12. “My style is to imply greatness without going so far as to say: LOOK AT ME! Is that better?”

    Huh. Must be something they teach at Staff NCO School.

    You do it most very well.

    I admit I was a bit afeared you’d abandoned the glorious practice of the Sea Story. That would have screwed the pooch as far as you getting the SGM of the USMC slot goes.

    I’m still holding out hope for a Corps reborn under yourself as the enlisted head honcho along side someone like Gen “Mad Dog” Mattis as Commandant.

    Thanks for squaring me away.

    Next on the list (well, after numbnuts that call magazines clips, anyway) is this idiocy of using pog in place of pogue.

    Gotta keep it historical and correct. If we don’t, no one else will, and the little things matter.

    – Grimmy

  13. I was just a Navy reservist and have never done any of the dramatic stuff. A few years back when I was in we had our two week annual field training (again, not much compared to the USMC version). A few days of that were a lot of quality time with the CBR gear. We had one 50 year old chief who walked 20 feet, then keeled over face first with heat exhaustion.

  14. Grimmy, 1) General Mattis has no idea who I am. 2) It is unlikely someone like me would be selected as SMMC in the next ten years. One reason being I have no intention of staying in that long.
    I have also raged against the misspelling of pogue. Although I think in modern times it is meant as Person Other than Grunt. I don’t recall such a definition as a young grunt.

    Anonymous One, Chiefs do tend to hydrate from the tap vice the faucet, if you get my meaning.

  15. Leslie, you’d be surprised. I had a decon site set up next to an AF Reserve patient decon line once. During the exercise the AF guys opened their suits up and tied the arms around their waist. They were concerned about having “real world heat casualties.” The Marines remained suited up for the duration without any heat casualties, real or imagined.

  16. I ran in full protective PPE exactly twice in 20 years. Aside from the heat, it was simply impossible for my lungs to pump enough oxygen through those valves in sufficient quantities to support physical exertion.

    I vividly recall that the old M17 mask would collect a puddle of condensation around my chin, which was like Chinese water torture. I was so impressed that the new full face masks would drain that away.


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