Naval Annex Stump Neck, MD --
Marines assigned to the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF) competed for pride and a few days' liberty at the inaugural Commander’s Challenge on Nov. 6 at the Downey Responder Training Facility at Naval Annex Stump Neck. The course was grueling: intense physical competition centering on nine miles of running, combined with knowledge and practical application competition designed to increase the Marines’ chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high yield explosive (CBRNE) response skills. The challenge is intended to build upon the CBRNE knowledge gained by Marines at CBIRF’s Basic Operators Course.
For the Marines who volunteered for the challenge, the event began with a three-mile run in physical training (PT) gear from the Downey Responder Training Facility through Naval Annex Stump Neck, and back again. Under a barrage of cheers and good-natured insults from their fellow Marines, the competitors, in teams of four, were put to the test in several CBRN skill areas, including tying rescue knots, rappelling and taking a written test quizzing the Marines on Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) signs. In between the knowledge and practical application events, the teams completed in additional physical challenges and of course, more running.
The competing Marines found the second run event to be particularly challenging. The course was the same three miles they ran previously, but instead of PT gear, the Marines wore their bulky CBRN protective suits. This included wearing the Powered Air-Purifying Respirator (PAPR) masks, no small task.
“The PAPR run, definitely,” said Cpl. Matt Jenkins, when asked about which part of the challenge was the hardest. “The weight of the [Mission Oriented Protective Posture] suit and the PAPR restricted the air.”
Other Marines in the competition summed up their feelings in more succinct terms. “Ow,” said Cpl. Andrew Fisher.
Marines observing and facilitating the challenge were of the same mind. “It’s definitely a beast of a challenge,” said Staff Sgt. Arthur Rose, who managed an event station in which competitors dragged a casualty sled several hundred yards.
Still, preparation helped some of the competing Marines handle the knowledge portions of the event. “With the training that’s done here, the knowledge came back to you pretty quick,” said Jenkins.
After a final three-mile run in boots and utilities,seven of the 12 teams completed the challenge in the allotted time limit. With a time of two hours, seven minutes, Cpls. Valentine Borunda, Bryan Conerly, Scott Grossinger and Phillip McMahon, from CBIRF’s Identification Detection Platoon, were victorious.
“The whole purpose of this is to create a physical and mental challenge that incorporates all of the aspects of what it means to be a Marine or a Sailor in the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force,” said Col. Peter Ahern, commanding officer of CBIRF. “We want to do it in a way where the larger audience [of CBIRF Marines and Sailors] can see that, if they work toward it, they can successfully accomplish the challenge. But it is not easy… it’s something you’ve got to work towards. You’ve got to have grit and determination, similar to what you have to have in the Basic Operators Course or a real-world response situation.”
The unique mission of CBIRF demands a unique mindset, said Ahern. “We’re the only unit designed for life-saving in the Marine Corps. With that comes a mindset shift and the challenge is part of that. When you’re in a response scenario, it’s not just physical strength and stamina, you also have to be able to think. You have to be more than physically fit, you have to be mentally agile.”
While Ahern came up with the idea of a CBIRF Commander’s Challenge, the non-commissioned officers (NCOs) of CBIRF came up with the specifics. “We were tasked with challenging our Marines in all aspects of what it is to be a CBIRF Marine,” said Sgt. Matthew Dickey, battalion training NCO. “It’s not just a physical challenge, though it is obviously very physically-demanding. We catered it to be CBRNE response-specific with questions, the rappel tower… things that all Marines at CBIRF have learned. We want to see them put forth that effort and really dig in deep to complete the physical aspects, but also to keep up with their knowledge.”