Smoke poured out of the front doors of St. Elizabeth’s East hospital, Washington, D.C. Marines and corpsmen with Chemical Biological Incident Response Force took over the grounds and cleared the four-story building, room by room.
The force was responding to a simulated chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high yield explosive attack during Exercise Silent Ghost April 7-8, 2015. The exercise featured a staged incident aimed to increase proficiency and readiness of the unit.
The unit is made up of two Incident response forces each containing decontamination, explosive ordnance disposal, extract, identification and detection, medical, technical rescue, augment and headquarters sections. Incident Response Force A, which is composed of eight sections, prepared for contingencies and crises during the exercise.
“It gives us a chance to operate in a more real world scenario,” said Lance Cpl. Levi Schalot, an extract Marine with CBIRF. “They also offer role-players which gives it a more realistic training approach rather than pulling dummies out.”
Screams for help echoed outside the retired hospital as technical rescue Marines built structures, pried doors open and marked walls to create a safer process for the victim extraction.
“When you actually have a person [that] you’re dragging out on your skid, it makes it a lot more real and it gives you that extra edge that you need to get the most out of the training,” Schalot said.
The training covered a 36-hour time span training the Marines and corpsmen to deal with exhaustion. Despite long hours taking its toll, the unit continued to work together to practice their essential skills
“We get a lot of casualties in a short period of time, then it dies down and then it picks back up,” said Cpl. John Lord, a decontamination Marine with CBIRF. “We like to swap fresh guys into the tent to keep the guys rested.”
Each section of the force wore gear appropriate for any incident.
“We’re going to be down range. You’re going to be in your suit. You’re going to have your gas mask on, so you’re going to have to do patient care in a way that’s extremely unique,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class James Allison, a corpsman with CBIRF’s medical section. “You get a feel for getting hands on a patient through thick rubber gloves, [and] to communicate through the gas mask not only with your patients, but with your fellow corpsmen and the Marines as well.”
Silent Ghost is one of several exercises CBIRF participates in each year. The force is the only military unit poised to react to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high yields explosive attacks in the United States.
“Everybody has to get in and find their groove,” said Schalot. “Each section figures out exactly what they have to do to work seamlessly together to start effectively and quickly pulling victims out and getting the situation under control.”