As one of America’s national assets, the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force remains second to none in fulfilling the mission of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High-Yield Explosive (CBRNE) consequence management.
In 1995, the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps General Charles Krulak, provided planning guidance that identified the need for a strategic organization to respond to a growing chemical/biological terrorist threat. The CBIRF concept was developed by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory and came to fruition in 1996. The 500-person active duty unit is now located at Naval Support Facility Indian Head, Maryland. Less than 30 miles from the capital building, CBIRF’s proximity to the National Capital Region makes it the force of choice within Department of Defense when responding to CBRNE threats in Washington, D.C.
The Marines and Sailors that comprise CBIRF come from more than 40 military occupational specialties, and train year round to carry out the unit’s mission. CBIRF is prepared to respond, with minimal warning, to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high yield explosive (CBRNE) events in order to assist local, state, or federal agencies and the geographic combatant commanders in the conduct of CBRNE response or consequence management operations as part of its Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA) mission. As such, CBIRF Marines and Sailors are skilled in the areas of command and control, agent detection and identification, search, rescue, and decontamination, and emergency medical care for contaminated personnel.
CBIRF is capable of deploying as a battalion task force consisting of two subordinate initial response forces (IRFs) with approximately 150 personnel each; one IRF is maintained on a constant 24-hour alert, with the second IRF prepared to deploy within 48 hours. These IRFs are also capable of responding to smaller contingencies independent of the battalion, and all CBIRF units are capable of self-deploying to any crisis within driving distance, a skill that is regularly practiced. Further, CBIRF, in keeping with the expeditionary nature of the Marine Corps, is prepared to deploy via military airlift or sealift to respond worldwide to crises. CBIRF, like all Marine Corps units, is also prepared to task organize internally to optimize the force when responding to exigent circumstances.
In order to execute its mission, CBIRF possesses a wide variety of unique skill sets that are task organized to address all possible aspects of a CBRNE attack. CBIRF has six major sections organic to the battalion: Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Technical Search and Rescue, Decontamination, Medical, Identification and Detection, and Search and Rescue/Casualty Extraction.
In the event of a CBRNE attack, the battalion will deploy Marines who specialize in identification and detection, and they will gather the first wave of intelligence that will be used to define the manner in which the mission will be accomplished.
As soon as the information from the assessment teams is analyzed, CBIRF will begin its search and rescue mission, quickly deploying personnel to locate and extract casualties from the contaminated environment and escort them to medical personnel. These medical personnel represent a highly trained, robust, organic medical capability that is unique in its ability to provide first line medical care in a contaminated environment.
After receiving initial medical care, victims are then taken to the decontamination tents, where CBIRF personnel decontaminate them and move them into a clean area for advanced medical care that will be provided by CBIRF’s medical section. Should an incident include a high yield explosion or a collapsed building, CBIRF also possesses a technical rescue element that is trained to the same standards as Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams. These Marines are trained in vehicle extrication, trench rescue, collapsed structure, and confined space rescue.
Finally, CBIRF has organic explosive ordnance disposal teams that can be deployed into a contaminated environment when an explosive threat (e.g. an improvised nuclear device, improvised explosive device, unexploded ordnance, etc.) is suspected or identified. EOD Marines also ensure that local assembly areas and routes are clear of any potential explosive hazards.
Every Marine and Sailor, from the commanding officer to the most junior member, must complete the CBIRF Basic Operations Course (CBOC) at Navy Support Facility Indian Head Annex Stump Neck. All CBIRF personnel learn to navigate their way through collapsed structures, perform emergency medical care, extract mass casualties from a contaminated area, and conduct decontamination operations. Ensuring that every individual assigned to CBIRF possesses these basic skills gives the unit a great deal of depth, and allows it to bring the full weight of the battalion to bear in the event of crisis.
CBIRF has a rich history in responding to and supporting high-level events and consequence management, including support to the United States Capitol Police during the ricin incident on Capitol Hill in 2004. More than 140 Marines and Sailors sustained 24/7 operations for one week in an effort to enable the U.S. Congress to return to normal operations.
CBIRF also responded to the anthrax attacks on Capitol Hill in 2001, has supported Presidential State Funerals and Inaugurations, and has staged as a Rapid Reaction Force for the Olympic Games and the Republican and Democratic Conventions. The unit's latest response to the Japan Tsunami/Fukushima nuclear disaster was a display of its ability to respond to natural disasters on an international scale of operation, conducting life-saving operations while forward deployed.