ST. LOUIS -- As a rescue operation unfolds, the murmur of Marines in conversation moves to and fro between the barking commands of emergency and the quiet tones of relief. The rhetoric of rescue exists between these poles of communication with a resonance that is as compelling as it is necessary. After making a cross-country trek to respond to a training exercise Aug. 11, it's obvious the U.S. Marines mean business.
The two-day convoy was one example of the Chemical Biological Incident Response forces' ongoing commitment to support local, state and federal first responders with the extraction and decontamination of casualties in the event of a chemical or biological attack.
Some of the conversation between the Marines on-site assumed the same balenced rhythm of the approximate 900-mile trip the unit undertook to arrive at the training evolution. Lance Cpl. Jeffery L. Lemons, reconnaissance assistant team leader, delivered his brief to the incident response commander as concise, unquestionable facts.
"Sir, the recon team entered the second room and conducted a perimeter search," said the 21-year-old Springfield, Ohio, native. "There were no samples of viable readings sent back."
"Very well," responded Capt. Roy M. Draa, the incident response commander.
"They continued through the sector and entered the third room where they found no viable reading, but encountered a bottle with cleaning supplies that seemed out of place," continued Lemons.
Even as the junior Marine introduced information of potentially life-threatening factors, Draa maintained his composure.
Although the interaction between Marines and sailors, first responders and casualties fluctuated between the intense and the mundane, the overall mission of saving lives was executed.
"What is wrong, ma'am?" asked a company B, Chemical Biological Incident Response Force Marine through his M40 gas mask as he leaned over the first casualty he found at the training site.
"My eyes are burning and I can't see," responded the victim with fear rifling through her voice.
The Marine motioned to one of his team members and they lifted her onto a stretcher that was used to extract her to safety.
"One, two, three...lift." These numbers became a mantra that permeated the rescue operation.
"We are here to help," became another buzz phrase the Marines used when making first contact with victims who had been either contaminated by chemical agent or injured by a simulated explosion of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Despite the soothing approach, some victims remained mistrustful.
How do I know you are here to help? You could be one of the bad guys," shreiked one casualty at a Marine whose patience was already tested by hours spent in a restrictive gas mask and chemical suit.
"I want my son. Where is Steve? Where is my boy?" she continued.
As the woman described her son, she began to calm down. The rescue balanced on the steady calm transferred from the voice of the rescuer to the ear of the survivor.
Some of the victims became comfortable where they found refuge in the contaminated chaos.
"I want to stay here, I'm safe here," Robyn Lyster, a participant in the exercise from Manchester, Mo., screamed.
She fights the entire way. Now, for the first time, the Marines abandon all conversation. All they do is move toward their objective--the decontamination line and medical stability tent--a sanctuary for injured nonambulatory casualties coming out of the decontamination line, who were then transported away from the site of the attack.
"CBIRF Marines and sailors endure constant training to ensure they are prepared for any situation that may arise," explained 1st Sgt. Brian Taylor, Company B first sergeant. "Marines and sailors, however, are much more than their training."
"The humanity in a Marine or sailor can be employed when necessary as well as his forcefulness in nature to complete the mission. The epitome of a great plan is to be able to modify that plan when all hell breaks loose and they find themselves entrenced in a Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and High Yield explosive environment."
Training exercises such as this enable the chemical/biological gurus to execute a mission as unique as the unit itself. When the biohazard spreads and the cloud of gas is closing in, the American people can know CBIRF will be there.