Photo Information

Cpl. Joshua Harris (right) and Cpl. Travis Johnson (left), extractors for Company B, Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, II Marine Expeditionary Force, put a neck brace on a simulated casualty involved in a car wreck, caused by a terrorist attack here March 29. The simulated chemical attack sparked several car wrecks, and Marines and sailors were tasked to extract and decontaminate casualties and provide medical care when necessary.

Photo by Cpl. Leslie Palmer

Center for National Response helps CBIRF keep U.S. safe

17 Apr 2008 | Cpl. Leslie Palmer

It's unique training for a unique unit. For Marines and sailors at Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, II Marine Expeditionary Force, realistic training is crucial for their effectiveness. So the response unit took to the hills of West Virginia to hone their skills operating in a simulated contaminated environment March 25-30.

Trudging through a simulated contaminated environment in a dark and cold tunnel here, responders with CBIRF can hear the cries for help fill the passageway. Vehicles rush the responders entering the polluted area, carrying casualties to CBIRF’s decontamination line. Not knowing what lay farther down the tunnel, the responders prepare for the life and death they may see in the tunnel.

Training on a regular basis on how to operate in a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive incident, helps keep CBIRF Marines and sailors focused on saving lives in a contaminated area. Although they have responded to incidents like the ricin and anthrax attacks on Capitol Hill, realistic training in realistic environments is necessary to keep them from becoming complacent, said Cpl. Elizabeth Russell, field radio operator, Headquarters and Service Company, CBIRF. 

“You don’t realize how important you’re training is until you have to use it, but when you do, it comes to you like it’s second nature,” said Russell.

CBIRF servicemembers responded to a simulated chemical attack that was released in a mountain tunnel.

Dispersed in groups, the responders entered the dark, damp corner of the tunnel to rescue casualties and find out what chemical agent contaminated the victims.

“(The terrorists) have dispersal devices underneath the vehicles that were spraying the highway with a nerve agent. So, the drivers became infected and started showing symptoms of infection and wrecked. As the responders move through the wreckage, they have to treat casualties for signs and symptoms of contamination, but also withstand any kind of accident themselves,” said Randy Hall, weapons of mass destruction exercise planner, Center for National Response.

This training was all too real to CBIRF Marines and sailors. It was similar to a 1995 terrorist attack in Tokyo, Japan, when perpetrators released sarin gas on several lines of the metropolitan transient system. Because of this attack, CBIRF came into fruition in 1996.

“It could happen, and that’s why we’re here, to help them train,” said Kim Whitlow, a casualty during the training.

Rescued by CBIRF servicemembers, Whitlow said, she feels safe knowing CBIRF Marines and sailors are ready for whatever may come.

“They know their job well,” Whitlow explained. “They come in and do what they have to do to get everyone out,” she said.

The training here was out of the ordinary, yet it was realistic enough to put them to the test.

“The Marines and sailors train in a lot of buildings and rooms. Unlike this incident, which is a highway accident, multiple car pileups, lots of rubber, lots of unstable things, they have to move, on top of treating and extracting casualties, in the midst of a chemically contaminated environment,” Hall said.

One observer, a local cameraman, found the training unlike anything he’d ever seen.

“This is totally different from what I was expecting, with the cars piled up. I’ve been to some training courses for other things, but none of them have ever been this realistic. The bus, breaking the windows out, and the people stuck in the cars. I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Matt Durrett, a cameraman for CBS channel 13. "It's amazing."

Unique training for a unique unit, CBIRF continues in their preparation for the safety of the America.