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.