PERRY, Ga. --
The threat of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapon attack is a reality within today’s global state of affairs.
The Marines and sailors of the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, based in Indian Head, Md., constantly train for this reality. They travelled to the Guardian Center in Perry Aug. 15-20 for Exercise Scarlet Response to further sharpen their skills, while working with local emergency authorities.
“We respond to a credible CBRN threat or actual attack,” said Sgt. Chad Umbach, a member of the search and extract platoon with CBIRF. “We will be the first responders to go in and find anyone who is still alive, render proper treatment and try to save as many lives as we can.”
The unit has responded to four real-world situations since its creation in 1996.
The force’s first response was to anthrax attacks on Washington in 2002. Later that year, they responded to a tornado in La Plata, Md. They next responded Ricin attacks in Washington in 2004. Their latest response was in 2009 during Operation Tomodachi in Japan.
Exercises such as Scarlet Response, ensure CBIRF personnel are ready for future emergencies.
The first portion of the exercise involved classes to better the units understanding of the material. In the afternoon, the CBIRF Marines and sailors practiced decontaminating animals, moving pipes and providing medical care for disaster victims.
Then, a 48-hour mock scenario tested the team’s ability to respond to a nuclear weapon detention. The scenario started on a two-mile stretch of highway.
The scenario kicked off with local authorities contacting the CBIRF assessment team.
“Twelve hours after the incident, we can have a CBIRF assessment team on the ground,” said Col. Steve Redifer, CBIRF commanding officer. “Within 24 hours, we can have one of the incident response forces on the ground.”
After an initial meeting with local authorities, the IRF was on its way to respond.
“Marines are used to deploying on a moment’s notice, going into an expeditionary environment and kind of kicking the door down, supporting themselves and carrying out the mission,” Redifer said.
The first two teams donned green protective clothing and black gas masks. Listening to the clicks and pops of a Geiger counter, team members walked down a divided highway sweeping the area for signs of radiation. When a contaminated area was located, the teams set up a barrier to prevent spreading.
Once the safety perimeter was set, Marines moved up the highway to search for survivors. The response force removed ambulatory victims and assessed survivors. Team members relayed information to extraction teams and survivors who could walk directing the extraction teams to the decontamination area.
Survivors would take off all clothing – for the scenario role players had on swimsuits – and were washed to make sure contamination was not allowed beyond the decontamination tent.
Decontaminated survivors were then treated in a medical tent where Naval doctors and corpsmen cared for simulated burns, broken bones and trauma.
“We try to render as much care as we can down range,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Leonardo Fortolis, corpsman with CBIRF. “We then try to get them to a higher echelon care.”
Once non-ambulatory survivors were assessed, an extraction team carried them out. The unit worked through the night to clear a section of highway approximately two miles long.
“Extract section, when we go down range, are the ones, who actually sweep the sectors and find anybody who is still alive,” Umbach said. “We are the first responders.”
When they arrived at the end of the highway, they searched through collapsed buildings, subway tunnels and wrecked vehicles – all part of the training facility – to save victims.
If a building collapsed, Marines could be trapped inside, said Patrick Higgins, the lead CBRN instructor with CBIRF. Technical rescue Marines would go into hazardous structures and ensured it was safe to enter and extract victims.
The Marines and sailors worked for 43 hours battling sleep deprivation, rain and hunger to complete the mission.
The scenario ended when the Marines extracted and decontaminated all the role- players from the divided highway, destroyed city and a simulated subway tunnel.
“Give us the mission. We will execute, and we will accomplish it,” Higgins said. “We are here for the U. S., the forces overseas and the combatant commanders.”