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Naval Support Facility Indian Head, Md. – Cpl. Kevin M. Halfman, Initial Response Force A, Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, greats his little girl after returning home from a month long deployment in support of Operation Tomodachi. The Marines of IRF A Deployed to Japan after a catastrophic earthquake and soon after tsunami shook the country and critically damaging the nuclear power plant Fukushima Dai-ichi. (Photo By Sgt. Frances L. Goch)(Released)

Photo by Sgt. Frances L. Goch

Marines, Sailors return from disaster relief deployment

3 May 2011 | Sgt. Frances L. Goch

Friends, families and co-workers greeted the Marines and sailors of Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, Initial Response Force “A” who returned home from a month long deployment to Japan in support of Operation Tomodachi, this week.

The Marines and sailors of IRF “A” deployed to Japan on April 2 after March’s disastrous earthquake and tsunami led to a near meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. The explosion of one the power plant reactors left the local public exposed to dangerous radioactive materials, which the Marines are trained to detect and treat.

“This is the first time an IRF has deployed as a whole unit on foreign soil for an actual operation,” said Master Sgt. Patrick L. Lavender, Operations Chief, CBIRF. “There was a specific skill set needed that only CBIRF could address.”

A month long deployment is not commonplace in the Marine Corps, let alone the US Military, where deployments can last up to 18 months for some services, but CBIRF is no normal unit and this was not a normal deployment. CBIRF Marines specialize in consequence management operations, specifically in a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive situation.

“Their mission was two-pronged,” said Captain Casey L. Ward, Operations Planner, H&S Company, CBIRF. Ward explains their primary mission was to provide a quick-reaction force to assist the Japanese Self Defense Force with CBRNE consequence management operations, maximizing life saving efforts and minimizing the suffering of affected individuals.

For a unit like CBIRF, that prides itself as a life saving organization, this was a prime opportunity for the Marines and sailors to apply their skill sets in a real life scenario. However, the circumstances in Japan never progressed to the point that the IRF “A” would have to act as a quick reaction force.

“Their secondary mission was to share information and conduct bilateral coordination benefiting both units and strengthening relations between the United States and one of its strongest allies,” said Ward.

With the situation at Fukushima steadily stabilizing, IRF “A” focused on their secondary mission by conducting bilateral training with Japanese forces. This training focused on core CBRNE tactics and procedures such as search and extraction in a contaminated environment, decontamination, command and control, and deployment training practices.

This is the first time that CBIRF and the Japanese SDF’s NBC forces trained together even though both organizations were born from the Sarin attacks on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

“This was a great opportunity to see what they created versus what we created in response to the same incident,” said Lt. Col. Charles M. Long, Executive Officer, CBIRF. “In the end they liked the organization we created and they are going to build a CBIRF-like capability based on their requirements, which is a huge honor for us.”

According to Long, the most important thing to come out of this deployment is the solidification of the friendship between the US and its long time ally. “You don’t know how good of a friend you have in a time of peace,” said Long. “It is when you have a disaster that is when you really find out who your friends are.”

The Marine Corps sent Marines to aid Japan from the very beginning of their time of need, delivering food, water and other supplies while also providing rescue, casualty transportation and clean-up assistance.

"I'd like to express my deepest appreciation for (our) friendship with the United States, which dispatched its treasured elite team to aid Japan." Mr. Kitazawa, Japanese Defense Minister, told U.S. Joint Support Force Public Affairs.

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