USS KEARSARGE, at Sea --
Chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense specialists assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and a sailor assigned to Battalion Landing Team 3/2, 26th MEU, conducted level B hazardous material suit proficiency training and hot bottle swaps, April 17, 2013.
“You wouldn’t think of clothing or a suit as a piece of equipment, but it is so we constantly have to train with it so we don’t lose our proficiency with it,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Manion, 26th MEU CBRN and assessment and consequence management chief. “It is something we need familiarize ourselves and practice with.”
The possibility of dealing with any sort of biological or chemical warfare is an unfortunate reality that must be faced, but is best countered by sending in Marines who specialize and train in that specific type of warfare.
“If the BLT went out on a patrol and they found something nasty we get called in,” said Sgt. Benjamin Rader, a St. Augustine, Fla., native, and ACM team leader assigned to the 26th MEU. “When we get on scene we have to be able to dress out very quickly to be able to rapidly get downrange so we can get to any possible casualties, or do reconnaissance on a site to see if we need to send out follow-on teams to help do sampling of material to find out what we are dealing with.”
Dealing with fatal weapons designed at the molecular level reduces the room for error to next to none.
“We are dealing with dozens and dozens of possible agents or biological hazards out there and it is extremely crucial we have airtight and watertight seals,” said Manion. “Given the whole host of weapons out there, any small amount can get through an improperly sealed zipper, cuff, or crease, which could be fatal to the Marine. Unfortunately, it might not even be noticed until it’s too late because the suits get hot and the Marines get sweaty inside. We wouldn’t feel any liquid contamination because our skin wouldn’t be dry.”
Properly dawning, securing and knowing what to do in the event of a gear malfunction can easily mean the difference between life and death.
“A hot bottle swap is a generic term we use meaning in a hot zone, which is another term for a contaminated zone or any zone that has a weaponized or harmful chemical, there is a need to change the tanks out before it’s an issue, so we train to stay proficient at swapping out an empty or damaged tank with a new, full tank,” said Manion. “Our tanks of air hold a sixty minute supply, but it doesn’t always work out that way depending on how fast the individual Marine burns through their oxygen.”
Rader said to ensure a steady supply of oxygen, each tank is equipped with a buddy breather. The buddy breather is device that allows two people to breath off of one tank during a hot bottle swap.
The training the CBRN Marines undergo and the professional manner in which they conduct it gives their chain of command the confidence to be able to deploy them in any situation at any time.
“I try to get as creative as I can and I throw them curveballs to keep them on their toes,” said Manion. “They are all extremely well studied, and they are all prepared for anything that comes. These guys are outstanding; I am at a loss of words to use other than just outstanding. They are all motivated, hungry and intelligent. They are the best Marines I have had the opportunity to work with.”