USS KEARSARGE, at Sea --
This is the first story in a three part series covering the events of the training. The follow on story will follow the training that happened on the second and third day. Initially the evolution was intended to be split between two days; the second day was carried over to an additional day due to an interruption caused by an alternative operational commitment.
The chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense specialists assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, conducted multiple confined space search and rescue exercises aboard the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), at sea, spanning a three day period starting May 8, 2013.
“The first day specifically was kind of the crawl and walk part of this evolution,” said Sgt. Benjamin Rader, a St. Augustine, Fla., native, and assessment and consequence management team leader assigned to the 26th MEU. “The Marines were conducting a search and rescue of a non-ambulatory casualty – non ambulatory meaning they couldn’t walk – and they were doing it in a chemical environment.”
Working in a chemical environment means the Marines must take extra precaution and wear a Level B Mission Oriented Protective Posture suit.
“The Level B MOPP suit is almost fully encapsulated,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Myhra, a Portland, Ore., native and CBRN defense officer. “The only piece that is not encapsulated is the face piece, but the suit still actually seals around the outside of the mask.”
The exercise started in the hangar bay of the Kearsarge where their gear was laid out and accounted for. They split up into two, five-man teams, with each team conducting the exercise alone.
“We suited them up with Level B suites and self-contained breathing apparatuses to simulate an environment of unknown chemicals or a lack of oxygen environment, and really our goal was to get them acclimated and to have them use methods and techniques they have been taught to find potential casualties in collapsed environments or confined spaces,” said Myhra.
Their only directive was to navigate the chained down vehicles and quad cons to locate the victim, usually by yelling for a response, and get the injured to safety. Rader said the ACM teams were being tested to see how well the team leader could assess the situation, take charge and direct four other Marines to execute the plan in a timely manner.
“This gave us a chance to exercise having group leaders or team leaders in which case the lance corporal takes charge,” said Myhra. “Being able to practice this in a training environment allows them to get a grasp of what may be necessary or needed in the future. If we were to go on the deck in real operations, I know I could trust my lance corporals and I could segregate the Marines into three, four or even five teams and that lance corporal has the confidence to be able to lead a team.”
One of the simulated casualties, Lance Cpl. Lionel H. Francis, a 26th MEU ground sensor platoon assistant team leader from Covington, Ga., said, “I feel very confident if we ever get caught in a worst case scenario they will be able to come and get us, secure us, and get us to a safe zone in a timely manner. In any number of chemical or biological attacks you may be unconscious or unable to help yourself and I am 100% confident they would be able to find and help me. They take their job very seriously and operate in a timely manner.”