MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- To maintain its position as one of America’s premier forces in readiness with the ability to deal with various situations at a moments notice, elements of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted an intensive chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defense training exercise June 4-21 at numerous locations in and around Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
The Marines and sailors that comprised the 11th MEU’s enhanced CBRN team were selected from Battery G, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, the MEU’s ground combat element. Since Golf Battery was part of an artillery unit, its members had to transition from pulling lanyards on their big guns to detecting toxic materials.
During the demanding weeks of classroom instruction, practical application and numerous site exercises, the Marines and sailors developed a confined space, site exploitation capability to respond to a CBRN incident, thus furthering the MEU’s tip of the spear.
The CBRN training, though implemented at the MEU level, has national and even global implications. It provides the 11th MEU with the ability to conduct operations in support of numerous worldwide treaties and agreements, including the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the more commonly known United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 (April 28, 2004), as directed by the President of the United States or his Unified Combatant Commanders, according to Chief Warrant Officer 3 Robert Garcia, CBRN Defense Officer, 11th MEU.
Most of these pacts cover the illegal possession and transportation of hazardous or deadly materials and what actions countries in the U.N. can take against nations that violate them, said Garcia, a West Paterson, N.J., native.
To reach this goal, the MEU’s CBRN team developed a comprehensive training schedule that included intricate site exercises to provide the Marines with realistic training. Assisting in the training was Chemical, Biological Incident Response Force, the same group that responded to the anthrax attacks in Washington D.C. in 2001. They assisted the instructors in teaching the Marines how to employ their gear and oversaw the training.
"It was difficult at the beginning because it was all new information, but we got into it," said Cpl. Miguel Gamon, a field artillery cannoneer with Battery G and E-CBRN team site controller.
"We come from so many different areas," said the Salt Lake City, Utah, native. "The hardest part was to get everyone to work together."
The team learned what was expected of them and how they fit into the MEU picture, Garcia said.
"We established a timeline with daily and hourly developments, provided warning orders and built a realistic situation that would challenge the Marines," said Staff Sgt. Jeremy T. Riglesberger, 11th MEU CBRN Defense Chief. "Each exercise built upon the next, just like it would occur in an actual scenario."
The first scenario included the site exploitation of a laboratory with toxic agents where the E-CBRN team had to render the area safe and collect samples and evidence, said Riglesberger, a Reno, N.V. native. With the evidence collected, they found receipts that tied a ship to the toxic agents.
The team then supported a maritime interdiction operation (MIO) to search for the chemicals on the ship. This mission also led them to further information and different scenarios.
"The team started out having to clear one room and find one toxic agent, but progressed to multiple rooms with multiple agents and even casualties," Garcia said.
On the last day of training the team responded to the call of a downed aircraft and prepared to support a tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel (TRAP) mission. The aircraft was transporting evidence from the laboratory when it went down and the team was tasked with clearing the helicopter and recovering the materials. Once again the team had to snap into action.
"It’s a huge change from the beginning," Gamon said about the final site exercise. "Now I feel confident going out and doing missions."
Not only are the Marines of the CBRN team certain of their newly formed skills, their leaders are as well.
"They can support any MEU mission from a MIO, to a vessel boarding search and seizure, to a tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel," Garcia said. "I am confident that we can support all the training exercises and real-world missions that the MEU commander directs."