AL ASAD, Iraq -- The Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Marines with Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, conducted training April 25, in Al Asad, Iraq, to enhance their skills under varied conditions.
The CBRN Marines have in place an incident response team to deal with situations that involve the use of the four agents.
"We've taken traditional Nuclear, Biological and Chemical doctrine and modified it for use in a nontraditional NBC threat environment," said Sgt. Chad W. Jenkins, response team leader, CBRN, from Portland, Ore. "Here, we have to stay ready to defend against such threats."
At the beginning of the training session, the response team was informed of an incident and rushed to the site with the tools necessary to decontaminate the area and save the lives of any casualties.
"In this training scenario, we responded to a suspected chemical munition," said Cpl. James P. Anderson, extraction team leader, CBRN. "My role was to be the first responder. I went to the contaminated site, assessed the casualties and began the decontamination and evacuation procedures."
As the first responder in the exercise, Anderson entered the immediate hazard area, known as the hot zone, alone so only one member of the team was exposed to the hazard. Anderson then assessed the condition of the casualties and the contaminated area. The remainder of the team set up the decontamination site a minimum of 50 meters directly up wind from the hot zone.
"We train for any incident," said Sgt. James L. Walters, staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, CBRN, and Irmo, S.C., native. "We need to be able to respond immediately and effectively because it is Marines' and other American service members' lives that are at stake. That is why training like this is so important."
The casualty decontamination procedures began after the first responder escorted casualties to the triage site where they were assessed and placed in one of five categories; delayed, immediate, priority, expectant and routine. The categories identify the degree of medical attention needed by the victims.
Casualties with liquid contamination on their clothing were stripped of them at a clothing removal point. They were then taken across the liquid contamination control line into the "warm zone" to neutralize and detoxify any agent they may have come into contact with.
Next, team members washed the casualties with a decontamination solution, and after five minutes, rinsed the solution from their skin.
Afterward, the casualties were taken to the vapor contamination control line where another team member spot-tests them with a Chemical Agent Monitor to see if the decontamination wash was successful. Once the casualties are verified clean, they are then sent to a medical treatment facility for follow-on care.
"The most essential things are speed and safety," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Scott C. Meyer, officer-in-charge CBRN. "A casualty could die after ten minutes or less. That's why it is so important to speed him through the process, to get him to the hospital for follow-on treatment."
Working together, the team was able to assess the situation and send casualties through the decontamination process within minutes.
"Although we don't train for these types of scenarios as we'd like to, it showed that we are prepared," said Lance Cpl. Katheryn A. Saldarriaga, response team member, CBRN, from Hesperia, Calif. "In the (United States), we mostly train other Marines to protect themselves, but here, we train ourselves for perfection, because it's really going to make a difference later."
When the casualty decontamination process was complete, and the casualties were evacuated, the first responder returns to the contaminated site.
"After the casualties were evacuated, I went back to the munition to identify what type of agent it was," said Anderson, a Lafayette, Ind., native. "I had to test the munition to see if it was a nerve, blister, blood or choking agent."
After the agent was determined, the first responder waited for the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team to seal up and package the munition to prevent further injuries.
At the end of the training evolution, the CBRN Marines evaluated their capabilities in such a scenario.
"It was very effective because it was a full dress rehearsal with as little simulation as possible," said Meyer, a Fort Worth, Texas, native. "Any time we can do that, it just adds more realism to the exercise. No one had any questions about the mission or what their job was."