MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. --
They are the entry-level scientists of Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, II Marine Expeditionary Force. Donned in gas masks, safety helmets, and white chemical protective over garments, they are the eyes and ears of one of the most elite emergency response forces in the United States.
Marines with the identification and detection platoon at CBIRF are given a unique mission not many Marines around the world are ever tasked with. Armed with only their wits and hands; Marines with IDP are tasked with being the first ones in a contaminated environment, should CBIRF ever respond to a real-world CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive) incident. IDP Marines exercised their capabilities at Eastern Shield, here, March 17th, and put to use their many skills.
“Good training prior to real-world situations always helps,” said Pfc. Josh Stanley, identification and detection specialist, IDP, Headquarters and Service Company, CBIRF.
With the capability to detect nearly 200,000 toxic industrial chemicals and all known chemical warfare agents, IDP Marines have the mobile laboratory to analyze samples of suspicious contaminants. The mobile laboratory at CBIRF is the only one of its kind in the world.
“We’ll take samples, bag them, and send them through the decontamination line, and then they (samples) go to the mobile lab to get analyzed,” said Lance Cpl. Heather Twomey, identification and detection specialist, IDP, Headquarters and Service Company, CBIRF.
“The mobile lab tells us types of agents (CBIRF Marines and sailors) are dealing with, that way we can downgrade in personal protective equipment (PPE) and take the proper medical precautions for whatever agent we’re dealing with,” Stanley explained.
Stanley demonstrated his ability to sample suspicious contaminants during the exercise, while his team operated in simulated contamination zone and came across a suspicious looking device spraying a mist into the air.
“When I first approached it, I took readings from it with a CAM (chemical agent monitor), and it indicated it was a nerve agent…,” Stanley described. “I took a sample of it using pH and M8 paper (used to detect chemical agents), which indicated it was a g-series nerve agent. After we found that out, three Marines on my team were affected by the agent (simulated), and the rest of us had to extract them.”
Operating under so much pressure can be harrowing on the Marines, said Lance Cpl. Brandon Williams, identification and detection specialist, IDP, Headquarters and Service Company, CBIRF. Mission accomplishment is paramount, because lives are at stake.
“…You just try not to get flustered, so you can help out the Marines in the hot zone,” Williams explained. “In the end, if you do your job quickly and efficiently, every Marine and sailor will be in the hot zone without their masks, because it will be a lot easier on their bodies, when the Marines and sailors are conducting rescue operations.”
CBIRF Marines and sailors train on CBRNE consequence management on a full-time basis. Being the only unit in the military capable of sustaining rescue operations for about 72 hours without assistance from other units, training is taken very seriously at CBIRF, Twomey explained.
“We always reiterate what is taught at (CBIRF Basic Operations Course). A majority of the information taught at CBOC is what we do everyday,” Twomey said.
While IDP Marines and sailors play a pivotal role at CBIRF in identifying contaminants, they depend upon other Marines and sailors to get the mission accomplished. CBIRF has several work-sections to include the medical platoon, decontamination platoon, and technical rescue platoon. All of these sectors respond to CBRNE incidents and assist local, state, or federal agencies and designated combatant commanders in conducting consequence management operations.
“If we went into a building to sample something and the building collapses on us and we didn’t have Rescue (technical rescue platoon), IDP would be worthless,” Williams said.
Tasked with making the unseen seen, IDP Marines work tirelessly towards identifying and detecting toxins in contaminated environments.
“We have to go into a contaminated environment first using the highest protective measures we can, so we can find out for the rest of the Marines and sailors what’s safe for them,” Twomey explained.
Swathed in sweaty, sticky chemical protective over garments and gas masks, IDP Marines continue to courageously perform their mission and lead in the fight against terrorism.