USS KEARSARGE, at Sea --
This is the second story in the three part series covering the events of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense specialist’s training. The search and rescue exercise was conducted in complete darkness, aboard the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), at sea, May 9, 2013 as part of a three day exercise.
“To continue further acclimation, during the second [and third] day scenario we took the chemical threat out of it,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Myhra, a Portland, Ore., native and CBRN defense officer. “To increase the difficulty we went to the lower sections of the ship and we turned off all the lights. With this you bring the factor of ‘all I can see is what is directly in front of me.’ The purpose of the scenario was to have an environment in which it has already been verified there are no chemical hazards, but there is no oxygen in the atmosphere.”
Since the threat no longer involved chemical or biological hazards, the CBRN Marines were able to go to a lower level Mission Oriented Protective Posture, but due to the lack of oxygen a self-contained breathing apparatus was still required.
“The pack and tank themselves are not very heavy, but it is a matter of mobility,” said Sgt. Benjamin Rader, a St. Augustine, Fla., native, and assessment and consequence management team leader assigned to the 26th MEU. “It doesn’t really restrict your movement too much, but now you are looking at having to be twice as cautious when navigating through areas that have environmental hazards. Something as simple as moving between two Humvees or moving over obstacles can become twice as difficult since you have a tank on your back.”
Due to the lack of ambient lights, the Marines had the challenge of navigating through the tight corridors comprised of quad cons with tanks on their back all while having to avoid an ample amount of chains securing them to the ground which made an abundance of tripping possibilities.
The general setup of the exercise was the same as the first day. A non-ambulatory casualty was hidden and needed to be found, cared for, and extracted to the designated safe zone. However, this time they Marines went in three-man teams instead of five. Myhra said smaller teams can, at times, be more beneficial. Due to the small spaces, fewer Marines allowed more room to work and fewer orders needed to be given.
Once the injured role players were found, they had to be treated for. One important piece of information that the Marines had to consider was a possible neck fracture. Rader said one of the team members was tasked to brace and support the neck to help prevent any further damage to the spinal cord while the other Marines prepped the stretcher and Skedco. A Skedco is a durable, yet flexible sheet of plastic that can be used with or without a stretcher depending on the injuries the casualty sustained. When utilized correctly it gives the rescuers the ability to more easily carry or even slide the casualty getting them to safety in a more timely manner.
While conducting the training the temperatures reached over 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 100% humidity.
“The temperatures in the lower parts of the ship helped continue the acclimation process which helps,” said Myhra. “Since we are going into the Middle East and it is about to be summer, it is going to be extremely hot and being able to do this and practice good hydration techniques helps us mitigate any of our guys going down.”
Rader said the second day went much smoother. He contributed the improvement to the after action report and the Marines sharing and learning from their mistakes.
“I think the Marines did very well,” said Myhra. “They took their training and have compounded on it. This was the first time we have done an event like this and we have learned a lot and have hot washed where we need to improve. They will definitely be tested again in a harder environment. We will see what else we can throw into the mix.”